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Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, I rise today to say a few words about an issue I think does not get enough discussion in the Senate but is of great concern to the American people in general; that is, the need for Congress to pass comprehensive Postal Service reform as soon as possible.
The Postal Service is of enormous importance to tens of millions of people, people in rural States like Maine or Vermont, to businesses all over this country, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of employees who serve us so well in the Postal Service.
About 2 years ago, the Postmaster General of the United States came up with a plan for the Postal Service that would have--let me just tell you and the American people what it would have done. It would have eliminated about 220,000 Postal Service jobs, including the jobs of many American veterans. It would have closed about 15,000 post offices throughout the country, many of them in rural areas like the State of Vermont. It would have eliminated half of the mail processing plants in this country. It would have substantially slowed down the delivery of mail by eliminating overnight delivery for first class mail. It would have ended Saturday mail delivery.
Many of us in the Senate and in the House thought that plan was a disaster for our country, for our economy, and for American workers. We all organized and fought back against that plan. The goal was to convince the Postmaster General to substantially revise the ideas that he had brought forth.
Instead of closing down 15,000 post offices, the Postal Service, in fact, came up with a plan to reduce the hours of service at about 13,000 post offices throughout the country, and many in the State of Vermont. Was I happy with that? No, to be frank with you. Was it better to see a reduction of 2 hours or 4 hours than seeing the entire rural post office shut down? It was.
Instead of closing down half of the mail processing plants in this country, the Postal Service decided they would keep about 100 of the mail sorting centers that were originally on the chopping block open. In other words, they did shut down some but not nearly as many as they had intended to shut down.
Instead of ending overnight delivery standards, the Postal Service has adopted a plan to keep overnight delivery going, although not as strong as it previously was. Although it took an act of Congress through the appropriations process, the Postal Service, for the time being at least, has decided to obey the law of the land and not eliminate Saturday mail delivery.
Last year, the Senate passed a comprehensive postal reform bill. That did not go as far as I would have liked, but it was certainly a substantial improvement over what the Postmaster General had proposed. We won that vote with 62 or 63 votes. There was bipartisan support for it.
Unfortunately, the House of Representatives failed to even schedule a vote on the floor of the House for any postal reform bill. As a result nothing was signed into law last Congress, forcing us to start this process all over again.
What I fear the most is that all of the work the Senate did last Congress--and the committee of jurisdiction worked hard on it. Some of us put together an ad hoc committee of 15, 16 Members of the Senate who worked hard on that issue. But I fear very much that all of that work to save the Postal Service will go for naught if Congress does not get its act together and pass a comprehensive postal reform bill as soon as possible.
In my view the time has come to send a very loud and clear message to the leadership of the House, the leadership of the Senate, the Postmaster General of the United States, and the President of the United States; that is, in the midst of this terrible recession which has significantly impacted the middle class and working families of our country, it is imperative that we do not destroy thousands and thousands of decent-paying, middle-class jobs, including the jobs of many veterans. That is what happens when you make the kinds of cuts the Postmaster General has been talking about. In the midst of this terrible recession, it is important that we do not harm small businesses that depend upon the Postal Service to sell their products.
Just yesterday I met with some businesses in the State of Vermont for whom it is enormously important that they know there is a strong Postal Service that can provide rapid delivery of the packages they produce. It is terribly important that as we talk about postal reform, we understand many senior citizens depend upon the post office for their prescription drugs.
It is also important, again, for the economy, that we not slow down the delivery of mail, that we do not close half of the mail processing plants in this country.
Here is the important point: There is no question that the Postal Service has financial problems. Nobody disagrees with that. I think many people do not understand the basic causes of the Postal Service's financial problems; that is, the Postal Service today is in terrible financial shape because of a congressional mandate signed into law by President Bush in December 2006, forcing the Postal Service to prefund 75 years of future retiree health benefits over a 10-year period.
Let me repeat that. The Postal Service, as a result of a decision in 2006, is forced to prefund 75 years--75 years--of future retiree health benefits over a 10-year period. Clearly, no other government agency at the Federal level, State level, or local level comes anywhere close to that kind of onerous burden. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, no private sector corporation in this country is burdened with a mandate anywhere near that extreme.
This prefunding mandate is responsible for about 80 percent of the Postal Service's financial losses since 2007. Let me repeat that. You are going to read often, and we read often, the Postal Service is facing severe financial problems. Let me repeat: This prefunding mandate is responsible for about 80 percent of the Postal Service's financial losses since 2007.
Before this prefunding mandate was signed into law, the Postal Service was making a profit. In fact, from 2003 to 2006, the Postal Service made a combined profit of more than $9 billion. That is a significant profit.
I should also note that despite what we read in the media, the Postal Service actually made a profit of $100 million during the last quarter sorting, processing, and delivering the mail. If we are serious about dealing with the financial problems facing the Postal Service, the first thing we have to do is end this prefunding mandate once and for all and allow the Postal Service to use the $48 billion sitting in that future retiree health fund to keep the Postal Service healthy and thriving for years to come.
When we talk about the financial problems facing the Postal Service, we have to understand that to a very significant degree some 80 percent of the problem was caused by the Congress as a result of a decision made in 2006. It is clear to me, and I think to all Americans, that we live in the year 2013. The world is changing. We are becoming more and more a digital economy, but it is also clear to me that the Postal Service does not survive by cutting back on its services to the American people and to the business community.
In order to save and strengthen the Postal Service, I have introduced the Postal Service Protection Act, S. 316. I am very proud to say that bill now has 23 cosponsors.
Let me thank all of the Senators who are cosponsoring this bill: Senators Baucus, Blumenthal, Brown, Casey, Cowan, Franken, Gillibrand, Harkin, Heinrich, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Manchin, Menendez, Merkley, Schatz, Stabenow, Tester, Tom Udall, Warren, and Wyden.
Mr. President, I would ask that Senator Cardin be added as a cosponsor to S. 316.
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Mr. SANDERS. I am delighted that we are making progress on real postal reform not only in the Senate but in the House as well. I thank Congressman Peter DeFazio from Oregon for his leadership efforts in cosponsoring the exact same bill in the House as we have in the Senate, and that now has 139 cosponsors.
We have 24 cosponsors now in the Senate, and in the House that bill has 139 cosponsors, which tells me the American people and their representatives in Washington understand how terribly important it is that we pass serious postal reform.
Let me very briefly talk about what is in that legislation, what the legislation, if passed, would accomplish. That bill would reestablish strong overnight delivery standards to ensure the timely delivery of mail. When people put a letter or a package in a mailbox or go to the post office, they want to know that letter or package is going to be delivered in a timely manner, and we do that.
In order to make sure we do have timely mail delivery, this legislation would prevent the closure of hundreds of mail processing plants throughout this country and save the jobs of tens of thousands of workers. This legislation would end, once and for all, as I just mentioned, the disastrous prefunding mandate that is the major problem facing the Postal Service.
This legislation would allow the Postal Service to recoup over $50 billion it has overpaid into the Civil Service Retirement System. This legislation would prevent the Postal Service from ending Saturday mail delivery. Further, and significantly, our bill would give the Postal Service the tools it needs to compete in the 21st century.
I understand, we all understand, the world has changed. It is not simply a question of finances, it is a question of giving the Postal Service the ability to compete in today's market and to allow it to sell innovative new products, new services, and, as a result, raise more revenue. We need a new vision for the Postal Service. This legislation would provide that vision.
Many Americans don't notice, but right now Federal law is tying the hands of the Postal Service in terms of the products and services it can provide. We say to the Postal Service that we are upset they are not making enough revenue, and yet we tie their hands and prevent them from going forth in producing new products and services to raise the revenue that would help their bottom line.
This legislation unties the hands of the Postal Service and would develop a process to allow the Postal Service to explore offering the best products and services that would raise the most revenue.
Let me just give an example of some of the absurdities under which the Postal Service is now operating.
If you were to go into a post office in Maine with a document and say to the clerk who is waiting on you: Listen, I need you to notarize this letter, the clerk would tell you: Sorry, it is against the law for me to notarize that letter. Now, that is pretty absurd.
If you were to walk into a post office, as I am sure everyday people do, and say: Listen, I need you to give me 10 copies of this document because I have to send it out to 10 different people, they would say: Sorry, it is against
the law of the United States of America for me to make 10 copies, 3 copies, or 1 copy of your document.
Furthermore, it is against the law for post offices to sell fishing or hunting licenses. Well, in my State, we are a rural State. People might, in certain parts of the State or other parts of America, like to be able to walk into a post office and say: Hey, how do I get a fishing license? How do I pick up a hunting license?
It is against the law right now. If somebody has a check that needs to be cashed, it is very difficult to cash that check in a post office.
What you see, by the way, all over America are payday lenders who are charging outrageous rates to low-income people to cash a check, a service I suspect the Postal Service could do to make some money and also save people a whole lot of money by not having to pay these outrageous rates.
If you were to pick up a case of beer or a case of wine and you wanted to send it to a relative in California, it is against the law for the Postal Service to deliver wine or beer. Currently, it is against the law for the United States Postal Service to engage in e-commerce activities.
We say to the Postal Service: We want you to go out and we want you to be competitive. By the way, you can't do this and you can't do that. On top of that, we are going to cause a massive financial problem for you demanding that you prefund 75 years of retiree health care in a 10-year period. Good luck. Well, that has a lot to do with why the Postal Service is facing the serious financial problems it is today.
We have to give the Postal Service a lot more flexibility, and we have to give them the opportunity and the ability to develop a very different business model than it currently has. In my view, we need to give the Postal Service the authority to do what other countries throughout the world are doing to respond to the shift toward electronic mail and away from hard copy mail. Fewer and fewer people are using first class mail. We understand that. They are using e-mail. That is the reality and we have to respond to that.
Let me give a few of them, really just a few, of what other postal services around the world are doing.
In Sweden, the post office will physically deliver e-mail correspondence to people who are not online or don't have access to a computer. Could that work here? I don't know. It is an interesting idea.
In Switzerland, people can have their physical mail received, scanned, and delivered into their e-mail boxes by the postal service.
In Germany, the post office will allow customers to communicate through secure service.
I think people are increasingly and legitimately concerned about who is going to get into their e-mail. In Germany they provide secure services. Could that work here in the United States? I don't know. Is it worth exploring, worth looking into? I think it is.
The point is that the Postal Service must be given the opportunity to innovate and implement an expanded business strategy for a changing world. We can't keep doing the same old-same old in a world that is changing.
For over 230 years, and enshrined in our Constitution, the Postal Service has played an enormously important role for the people of our country and, in fact, for our entire economy. A strong Postal Service, a Postal Service that delivers mail and packages in a timely manner, is extremely important for our economy.
That mission remains as important as it has ever been. Let's stand together and fight to save the Postal Service, not destroy it. Let's stand together in the midst of this recession to fight and save hundreds of thousands of jobs.
I again want to thank the 23 cosponsors on my legislation. I look forward to having more, but let's go forward together to save the Postal Service.
I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.
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