Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, the Postal Service's financial crisis continues to escalate.
At the end of this month, the U.S. Postal Service will miss the deadline for the required $5.6 billion payment toward its future retiree health care obligations. In fact, the Postal Service will have defaulted on more than $11 billion in payments to fund health care for future retirees, raising concerns about its ability to keep promises to current workers about their future benefits.
Five months ago, the Senate passed by a strong bipartisan vote legislation to shore up the Postal Service. Yet the House has failed to act. And unfortunately, the House is about to adjourn without taking up either the Senate-passed postal bill or a House version.
I have implored House leaders to take up postal reform legislation--any postal reform legislation--so the conference process and the difficult negotiations involved in that process can begin in earnest.
No one should pretend this is not a crisis worthy of congressional action.
The Postal Service has lost more than $13 billion during the past 2 years and is losing $25 million each day. It will reach its credit limit of $15 billion by the end of the year. Despite the fact that Congress has deferred or reduced the Postal Service's payments for future retiree health benefits multiple times, the Postal Service has still reported billions of dollars in deficits--clear evidence that its fiscal woes go far beyond this requirement.
The Senate bill passed in April ensures those promises to future retirees will be kept, while still providing financial relief by restructuring the payment plan in a responsible way.
Much is at stake. Without legislative reforms, the universal mail service that drives a trillion-dollar mail industry and supports more than 8 million jobs will be in jeopardy.
A key reason for the Postal Service's crisis is simply a changing world, where more and more communication is online rather than via traditional mail. First-class mail volume has fallen by 26 percent over the past 6 years and continues to decline. Reflecting that sharp drop in volume, the Postal Service's revenue has also plummeted from $72.8 billion in 2006 to $65.7 billion in 2011.
Nearly 80 percent of the Postal Service's costs are workforce-related, and so, as painful as it may be, finding a compassionate way to reduce these costs is simply unavoidable. In doing so, however, it is critical that the service on which many postal customers depend--customers the Postal Service desperately needs to keep--be preserved. The worst thing the Postal Service could do would be to drive more customers out of the mail, causing revenues to decline further and ensuring that the financial free fall continues. That would trigger a death spiral from which the Postal Service might never recover.
We need to help put the Postal Service back on solid financial footing, not only to help protect those who work in jobs related to mailing industry but also so that taxpayers are not left holding the bag.
The bill I coauthored along with Senators Lieberman, Carper, and Scott Brown would do just that.
Our bill encourages the Postal Service to operate more like a business by cutting internal costs first instead of driving away customers with deep service cuts or steep price hikes.
Our bill would transfer to the Postal Service the nearly $11 billion it has overpaid into the Federal Employee Retirement System and direct the Postmaster General to use a portion of this money for retirement and separation incentives in order to reduce the size of the workforce in a compassionate way.
Let me emphasize: This refund is not taxpayer money. It was contributed by the Postal Service using ratepayer dollars. It is an overpayment that was identified and confirmed by the actuaries at OPM and verified by the GAO. GAO recently confirmed OPM's assessment that this figure now has risen to nearly $11 billion.
The Senate-passed bill also includes a new requirement that arbitrators rendering binding decisions in labor disputes consider the financial condition of the Postal Service. I know that it might defy belief that an arbitrator would not automatically consider the looming bankruptcy of the Postal Service when ruling on contract disputes. Some previous arbitrators, however, have discounted this factor in their decisions because the requirement to consider it was not explicitly listed in law.
For the first time in 35 years, the bill also brings sorely needed, commonsense reforms to the Federal Workers' Compensation Program, not only at the Postal Service but across the entire Federal Government. More than 45,500 people are on the long-term rolls for Federal workers' comp, and 40 percent of those are Postal Service employees. The reforms will help injured employees return to work and ensure that workers' comp is not a substitute for retirement benefits.
The Senate bill would also rationalize what has been an erratic and Draconian closure plan for thousands of rural post offices. While some post offices can and should be closed, curbing access for customers could well jeopardize revenue. Therefore, our bill would set up a new process that would involve the consideration of alternatives to closure, such as reducing hours, co-locating a post office at a nearby pharmacy, or renting out excess space to other government agencies. Perhaps most important, the process includes the requirement for the views of the affected community to be heard and responded to prior to any final decision.
Our bill would prevent the Postal Service from eliminating Saturday delivery for the next 2 years. Instead, it directs the USPS to embark on a period of aggressive cost-cutting and then would allow this reduction in service only if the Government Accountability Office and postal regulators both certify that elimination of Saturday delivery is still necessary to achieve solvency.
The Senate's bipartisan postal reform bill preserves the Postal Service and the critical economic activity it supports.
Now, the House must act. Failure to do so puts in peril American commerce and could harm our fragile economy.
I am confident that, for the good of our country, we will be able to come together with our House colleagues and work out our differences, no matter how significant those differences may be. No doubt more compromises will be required along the way, but it is critical that we get a bill to the President for his signature as soon as possible.
Our task is urgent. Postal employees, businesses who rely on the U.S. mail, and the American people should not have to wait any longer.