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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 -- Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise to comment on our failure to move forward with debate and discussion and amendments on this very important bill. The sponsors of the legislation and I may have very different proposals to address this compelling issue, but neither the sponsors nor I believe we should not have debate, discussion, and amendment.

Unfortunately, again, because of a requirement by Members that their amendment be voted on, apparently, the majority leader will now move on, fill the tree, amendments will not be allowed, and we will move on to other legislation. This affects 500-some-thousand American employees. We are talking about tens of billions of dollars. We are talking about an urgent need to restructure and reform the postal system in America. So now, because of demands of Senators to have votes on nongermane amendments, we will now move on to other legislation. I wonder when we will address the issue. May 15 is a very critical date in this whole scenario.

I would like to talk a bit about my proposal, and that basically is modeled after the bill that is pending in the other body, the House of Representatives.

Yesterday the Washington Post editorial said, ``The time for real postal reform is now.'' It begins:

For anyone who still does not quite grasp the technologically obsolescent U.S. Postal Service's calamitous financial situation, here are a few facts from Thursday's Government Accountability Office report.

Before I go through that, I will quote from a Washington Post article from November 18. It specifically refers to the pending legislation. It says:

The 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2011, proposed by Senators Joseph I. Lieberman and Susan Collins and passed last week by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, is not a bill to save the U.S. Postal Service. It is a bill to postpone saving the Postal Service.

The service's announcement that it lost $5.1 billion in the most recent fiscal year was billed as good news, which suggests how dire its situation is. The only reason the loss was not greater is that Congress postponed the USPS's payment of $5.5 billion to prefund retiree health benefits. According to the Government Accountability Office, even $50 billion would not be enough to repay all of the Postal Service's debt and address current and future operating deficits that are caused by its inability to cut costs quickly enough to match declining mail volume and revenue.

The Collins-Lieberman bill, which transfers $7 billion from the Federal Employee Retirement System to the USPS--to be used for offering buyouts to its workers and paying down debts--can stave off collapse for a short time at best.

I point out that this is the Washington Post's view and the GAO's view, not necessarily that of this Senator.

Nor do the other measures in the bill offer much hope. The bill extends the payment schedule for the Postal Service to prefund its employee retirement benefits from 10 to 40 years. Yes, the funding requirement is onerous, but if the USPS cannot afford to pay for these benefits now, what makes it likely they will be able to pay later when mail volumes most likely will have plummeted further?

The article goes on to talk about one of the favorite tactics around here--more studies.

The bill also requires two more years of studies to determine whether a switch to five-day delivery would be viable.

I have to repeat that for my colleagues. We need to study for 2 years as to whether we need to reduce mail delivery from 6 days to 5 days. Isn't that marvelous. Isn't that marvelous--2 years to study. What it is is delaying what is absolutely necessary; that is, to have 5-day-a-week delivery.

One of my colleagues said it might keep someone from getting a newspaper in the mail. We are talking about $50 billion short, and we can't even reduce the number of days which has been recommended by the Postmaster General himself, so we are going to have 2 years to study whether we should switch to 5-day-a-week and whether that would be viable.

Continuing to quote from the Washington Post article:

These studies would be performed by a regulatory body that has already completed a laborious inquiry into the subject, a process that required almost a year.

So it will actually take 3 years.

This seems a pointless delay, especially given that a majority of Americans support the switch to five-day delivery.

We are sympathetic to Congress's wish to avoid killing jobs. And the bill does include provisions we have supported--such as requiring arbitrators to take the Postal Service's financial situation into account during collective bargaining and demanding a plan for providing mail services at retail outlets.

But this plan hits the snooze button on many of the postal service's underlying problems. Eighty percent of the USPS's budget goes towards its workforce; many of its workers are protected by no-layoff clauses.

Our Postal Service has no-layoff clauses in its contracts. I wonder if most Americans know that.

Seven billion dollars' worth of buyouts may help to shrink the workforce, but this so-called overpayment will come from taxpayers' pockets, and it is a hefty price to pay for further delay.

There is an alternative--a bill proposed by Representative Darrell Issa, (Republican-California) that would create a supervisory body to oversee the Postal Service's finances and, if necessary, negotiate new labor contracts. The bill, which just emerged from committee, is not perfect, but it offers a serious solution that does not leave taxpayers on the hook.

I wish to read from the April 14 Washington Post editorial, which I think sums up the situation.

For better or worse, our children's children will marvel at the fact that anyone ever used to send the paper thing called ``a letter.'' They'll be amazed to learn that we unnecessarily spent billions of dollars propping up a huge, inefficient system for moving these things around. But what would really astound future generations is that we borrowed that money and left it to them to pay it back.

There is no better description of what this bill is all about. My friends, I will be glad to go into a number of details, but it is very clear Congress and the Postal Service cannot make decisions, so what we need is the only thing we found that worked to reduce our bases in America, which was a BRAC. So what we need is a BRAC-like commission to identify those post offices and other facilities that need to be closed.

I wish to go back to what the article said about future generations. My friends, we now communicate with these. We communicate by e-mail and we communicate by tweeting and we communicate electronically in the ways we used to do with pen and paper or a typewriter. That is a fact. So we have seen a dramatic reduction in regular mail. We have seen it go down in a very dramatic fashion, which will accelerate over time. Listen, when guys my age are doing this, everybody is doing it. The fact is, everybody will be doing it, and they will not have to put a 30- or 40- or 50-cent or 60-cent stamp on a letter in order to get a message to their friends, families, business associates, et cetera.

Instead of doing as some did when the Pony Express was replaced by the railroad--trying to prop up a failing industry--let's find a graceful exit and, at the same time, preserve those functions of the Postal Service that will be around for a long time. There are functions that could stay around for a long time. But this is a dramatically changed world. We now have instant communications. We have instant news cycles, and we have today a proliferation, thank God, of information and knowledge that was unknown in previous years or in history. There are upsides and downsides to that, but the Postal Service delivering letters does not play any role in the future of information being shared and made available to citizens all over the world.

First-class mail makes up more than half of postal revenues. It is down by more than 25 percent since 2001. In the last 11 years, it is down 25 percent, and I promise that will accelerate. It continues on a downward spiral with no sign of recovery. This, combined with unsustainable 80-percent labor costs and labor contracts that contain no-layoff clauses, points to the hard reality the Postal Service is broken.

By the way, that is also the conclusion of the Government Accountability Office, which just recently issued a report entitled ``Challenges Related to Restructuring the Postal Service's Retail Network.'' Let me quote from that report.

In 2011, the American Postal Workers Union ..... and USPS management negotiated a 4-year agreement that limits transferring employees of an installation or craft to no more than 50 miles away.

How in the world did they negotiate an agreement that they would not transfer anybody farther than 50 miles away?

If USPS management cannot place employees within 50 miles, the parties are to jointly determine what steps may be taken, which includes putting postal employees on ``stand by'' which occurs when workers are idled but paid their full salary due to reassignments and reorganization efforts.

I am not making that up. If someone is a postal service worker and they want to be reassigned more than 50 miles away, they cannot do it. And if they can't do it, they put employees on stand-by, and they are idled but paid their full salary due to reassignments and reorganization efforts. My friends, it helps us to understand why 80 percent of their costs are in personnel.

The GAO, in its report, makes an argument basically for a BRAC. They call it the Commission on Postal Reorganization. Quoting the GAO once again:

The proposed Commission on Postal Reorganization could broaden the current focus on individual facility closures--which are often contentious, time consuming and inefficient--to a broader network-wide restructuring, similar to the BRAC approach. In other restructuring efforts where this approach has been used, expert panels have successfully informed and permitted difficult restructuring decisions, helping to provide consensus on intractable decisions. As previously noted, the 2003 report of the President's Commission on the USPS also recommended such an approach relating to the consolidation and rationalization of USPS's mail processing and distribution infrastructure. We also reported in 2010 that Congress may want to consider this approach to assist in restructuring organizations that are facing key financial challenges.

GAO has testified that USPS cannot continue providing services at current levels without dramatic changes in its cost structure. Optimizing the USPS's mail processing network would help USPS by bringing down costs related to excess and inefficient resources.

Continuing to read from the GAO report:

Lack of flexibility to consolidate its workforce: USPS stated it must be able to reduce the size of its workforce in order to ensure its costs are less than revenue. Action in this area is important since USPS's workforce accounts for about 80 percent of its costs.

We are faced with a very difficult decision, and the amendment and substitute I have has a number of provisions. I see my friend from Connecticut is on the floor, and I know he wants to discuss this issue as well, but the fact is we are looking at a Postal Service that once upon a time was so important to the United States of America it was even mentioned in the Constitution. Since those days, and in the intervening years, the Postal Service performed an incredibly outstanding job in delivering mail and communications to our citizens all over America-- in all settings, in all parts of our country--and they deserve great credit for doing so. But now we face a technological change.

As I understand it, a huge portion of their mail now is made up of so-called junk mail, which is advertising mail. Americans in greater and greater numbers are making use of this new technology, as I pointed out, and it is time we understood that and we stopped this incredible hemorrhaging of money. According to the Postal Service itself, by 2020, they are expecting to face up to a $238 billion shortfall. They are expecting a $238 billion shortfall in just the next 8 years--$238 billion. The Postal Service has reached its borrowing limit of $15 billion. Even with dramatic cost savings of $12 billion and workforce reduction of 110,000 postal employees in the past 4 years, the Postal Service is still losing money. In fact, the Postal Service has said it could lose as much as $18 billion annually by 2015 if not given the necessary flexibility it needs to cut costs and transform.

What does the legislation before us do? It delays by 2 years for a study--a study--to figure out whether we should go from 6 days a week to 5 days a week. I wonder how long it would take some smart people to figure out whether we should go from a 5-day delivery versus 6 days. According to the sponsors of the bill, it takes them 2 years, after they have already studied it for 1 year. Remarkable. Remarkable.

What we need--and this is, unfortunately, testimony to the lack of political courage of Members of Congress and members of the administration--a BRAC process. We need a BRAC process, where we can appoint a number of men and women who are knowledgeable and who are willing to make these decisions for us and then those decisions would be made and it would come back for an up-or-down vote in the Congress of the United States.

I point out again, this bill before us locks in the current service standards for 3 years. It will make it impossible to go forward with the vast bulk of the Postal Service's planned network consolidation for at least 3 years. It puts in place significant new steps, including public notice and comment, before a processing plant can be closed. It gives appeal rights to the PRC for processing plant closures and gives binding authority to this PRC to keep a plant open to protect service standards.

The bill adds a number of new regulations designed to make it more difficult to close post offices. It includes a post office closure moratorium until retail service standards are created. It gives the PRC the ability to enforce a ``retail service standard'' which would enable the PRC to not only require appealed post offices stay open but even require new post offices to be open if a complaint is lodged.

It continues the 2-year delay before USPS can go to 5-day delivery, as I mentioned, and it removes a provision in the reported text that required arbitrators to take into account pay comparability in any decision. It replaces it with vague language that says ``nothing in this section may be construed to limit the relevant factors that the arbitration board may take into consideration.''

If that isn't vague language I don't know what is. Let me repeat it. They want the board to do nothing in this section of the legislation that could be construed to limit the relevant factors that the arbitration board may take into consideration. That is pretty good guidance, isn't it?

I could go on and on, but in summary I would just go back to the Washington Post's final paragraph of their article and repeat--and this is what this is all about, my friends.

For better or worse, our children's children will marvel at the fact that anyone ever used to send the paper thing called ``a letter.'' They'll be amazed to learn that we unnecessarily spent billions of dollars propping up a huge, inefficient system for moving these things around. But what would really astound future generations is that we borrowed that money and left it to them to pay it back.

I thank the sponsors of this bill for the great effort they made. I think we have open and honest disagreements that deserve debate and discussion and amendments. They deserve amendments and they deserve honest debate. We are talking about the future of the Postal Service in America and we are talking about literally, over time, hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money.

I hope the majority leader will reconsider and allow amendments to be proposed. I hope my colleagues will not insist on a vote on a nonrelevant amendment as a condition to moving forward with legislation. That is not right either.

I have said time after time, because I have been around here for a long time, we should have people sit down, both majority and Republican leaders, and say, okay, how many amendments do you want? Which amendments do you want voted on? Give them a reasonable handful, which we did not that long ago, and then you have those votes and move forward.

This is important legislation. The Senator from Connecticut will point out that May 15 is a critical day. This issue cannot be strung out forever.

I hope we can sit down with the majority and Republican leader and come up with some amendments that would be allowed and then move forward. I don't know if my amendment will be agreed to, but I think it deserves a vote. I think it deserves debate and consideration.

Again, I thank the sponsors, three of the four of whom are on the floor, for their hard work. I look forward to the opportunity to have honest and open debate and discussion on this very important legislation. I know they and their staffs have put in hundreds and hundreds of hours of work on this legislation to bring it to the floor.

I yield the floor.


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