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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I want to discuss one of the amendments that I believe we will be voting on later, and basically what it does is it establishes a BRAC-like process in order to consolidate redundant, underutilized, and costly post offices and mail processing facilities.

We found over the years that Congress was politically unable to close a base or a facility that had to do with the military, so we adopted a process where a commission was appointed, those recommendations to consolidate excess and underutilized military bases were developed, and Congress was given an up-or-down vote. This is sort of based on that precedent.

The bill before us clearly doesn't offer any solutions. According to the Washington Post editorial:

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

I agree with the Washington Post. I usually do. The Service's announcement that they lost $5.1 billion in the most recent fiscal year was billed as good news. That is how dire the situation is, the fact that they only lost $5.1 billion.

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

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 that it will be able to pay later, when mail volume has most likely plummeted further?

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

The Washington Post goes on to say:

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

And finally they go on and say:

There is an alternative--a bill proposed by Rep. Darrell Issa that would create a supervisory body to oversee the Postal Service's finances and, if necessary, negotiate new labor contracts. The bill ..... is not perfect, but offers a serious solution that does not leave taxpayers on the hook.

So we now have legislation before us that makes it harder, if not impossible, for the Postal Service to close post offices and mail processing plants by placing new regulations and limitations on processes for closing or consolidating mail processing facilities, a move in the wrong direction. It puts in place significant and absolutely unprecedented new process steps and procedural hurdles designed to restrict USPS's ability to manage its mail processing network.

Additionally, the requirement to redo completed but not implemented mail processing consolidation studies will ultimately prevent any consolidations from occurring this calendar year.

What we have to realize in the context of this legislation is that we now have a dramatic shift, technologically speaking, as to how Americans communicate with each other. That is what this is all about. We now have the ability to communicate with each other without sitting down with pen and paper, just as we had the ability to transfer information and knowledge by means of the railroad rather than the Pony Express.

We now have facilities that are way oversized and unnecessary, and we are facing a fiscal crisis. According to the Postal Service:

The current mail processing network has a capacity of over 250 billion pieces of mail per year when mail volume is now 160 billion pieces of mail.

So now we have overcapacity that is nearly double what is actually going to be the work the Postal Service does, and all trends indicate down. More and more Americans now acquire the ability to communicate by text message, Twitter, and many other means of communications. So to somehow get mired into while we cannot close this post office, we have to keep this one open, we have to do this--we have to realize it in the context that a large portion of the U.S. Postal Service's business is conducted by sending what we call ``junk mail'' rather than the vital ways of communicating that it was able to carry out for so many years.

In addition, the Postal Service has a massive retail network of more than 32,000 post offices, branches, and stations that has remained largely unchanged despite declining mail volume and population shifts. The Postal Service has more full-time retail facilities in the United States of America than Starbucks, McDonald's, UPS, and FedEx combined. And according to the Government Accountability Office, approximately 80 percent of these retail facilities do not generate sufficient revenue to cover their costs. That is what this debate is all about. I hope my colleagues understand that we are looking at basically a dying part of America's economy because of technological advances, and in this legislation we are basically not recognizing that problem.

When 80 percent of their facilities don't generate sufficient revenue to cover their costs, then any business in the world--in the United States of America--would right-size that business to accommodate for changed situations. This bill does not do that. It continues to put up political roadblocks that prevent tough but essential closings and consolidations.

I grieve for the individuals who took care of the horses when the Pony Express went out of business. I grieve for the bridle and saddle and buggymakers when the automobile came in. But this is a technological change which is good for America in the long run because we can communicate with each other instantaneously. So we have a Postal Service--and thank God for all they did all those years, in fact, to the point where they were even mentioned in our Constitution. But it is now time to accommodate to the realities of the 21st century, and the taxpayers cannot continue to pick up the tab of billions and billions of dollars. Again, last year it lost only $5.1 billion, which they suggested was good news.

All this bill does is place significant and absolutely unprecedented and new process steps and procedural hurdles designed to restrict USPS's ability manage its mail processing network. Additionally, the requirement to redo completed but not implemented mail consolidation studies will ultimately prevent any consolidations from occurring this year.

So what do we need to do? We obviously need a BRAC. We need a group to come together to look at this whole situation, find out where efficiencies need to be made--as any business in America does--and come up with proposals, because Congress does have a special obligation, and have the Congress vote up or down. This bill will continue the failing business model of the Postal Service by locking in mail service standards for 3 years which are nearly identical to those that have been in place for a number of years.

The clear intent of this provision is to prevent many of the mail processing plant closures that the Postal Service itself has proposed as part of its restructuring plan. It also prohibits the Postal Service from moving to 5-day mail delivery for at least 2 years with significant hurdles that must be cleared before approval, even though the Postmaster General has been coming to Congress since 2009 and asking for this flexibility.

One of the largest single steps available to restore USPS's financial solvency would save the Postal Service at least $2 billion annually. If you told Americans that we would save the taxpayers' money--because they are on the hook for $2 billion a year--if you went from 6-day to 5-day mail delivery, I guarantee you that the overwhelming majority of Americans do support a 5-day delivery schedule rather than 6-day delivery schedule.

This, of course, kicks the can down the road. The bill also has at least five budget points of order against it about which the ranking member of the Budget Committee came to the floor yesterday and spoke.

So the BRAC-like amendment is essential, in my view, to moving this process forward. I don't know how many more billions of dollars of taxpayers' money is going to have to be spent to adjust to the 21st century. There is no business, no company, no private business in America that when faced with these kinds of losses wouldn't restructure. And they would restructure quickly because they would have an obligation to the owners and the stockholders. We are the stockholders. We are the ones who should be acting as quickly as possible to bring this fiscal calamity under control.

The GAO, the Government Accountability Office, states:

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 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 pay a lot of attention to the Government Accountability Office around here and this is something the Government Accountability Office recommends as well.

In addition:

[GAO] reviewed numerous comments from members of Congress, affected communities, and employee organizations that have expressed opposition to closing facilities. Such concerns are particularly heightened for postal facilities identified for closure that may consolidate functions to another state causing political leaders to oppose and potentially prevent such consolidations.

We should listen to the Government Accountability Office, take politics out of this delicate process, and move forward with their recommendations.

Our proposal would be composed of five members appointed by the President, with input from the House and Senate and the Comptroller General, with no more than three members being of the same political party.

The Postal Service, in consultation with the Postal Regulatory Commission, will be required to submit a plan to the BRAC-like Commission on closures and consolidations, which will include a list of closures and consolidations, a proposed schedule, estimated annual cost savings, criteria and process used to develop the plan, methodology and assumptions used to derive the estimates and any changes to processing, transportation, delivery or other postal operations anticipated as a result of the proposed closures and consolidations.

The Commission will be required to publish in the Federal Register the definition of ``excess mail processing capacity'' with a period of public comment.

After receiving the plans, the BRAC-like Commission will be required to hold at least five public hearings.

Finally, the Commission will be required to vote on the recommendations, with the concurrence of at least four of the members, and submit the recommendations to Congress. Any recommendation will be the subject of a congressional vote of approval or disapproval.

The amendment recognizes the fact that the current business model for the Postal Service is no longer viable. If we continue to act in an irresponsible way by putting up political roadblocks, the American taxpayer will be the one who ultimately suffers in the form of higher postage prices and bailouts. We should make hard choices now so future generations of Americans will have a viable Postal Service.

I ask unanimous consent the Washington Post editorial, ``A Failure to Deliver Solutions to Postal Service's problems,'' be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD,


Mr. McCAIN. I don't know what the ultimate result of the votes in the Senate will be. I do know that if it passes, it will be strongly opposed in the other body, the House of Representatives. If it is passed and signed into law, we will be back on the floor within 2 years addressing this issue again because this is not a solution. This isn't even a mandate. It is a proposal that will do business as usual and an abject failure to recognize there are technological changes that make certain practices obsolete, and that is what this is all about. Is it painful? Yes. Is it difficult? Yes. But the overall taxpayer obviously wants us to act in a fiscally responsible manner.

I yield the floor.


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