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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Congress passes bipartisan Postal Service reform bill, dividing Northwest Republicans

A US Postal Service worker delivers mail in the Taylor Cottage neighborhood of Spokane Valley, Wash. on Dec. 10, 2018. Congress has passed major USPS reforms to improve the organization's finances.  (Libby Kamrowski)

WASHINGTON – The Senate on Tuesday passed a long-awaited bill to overhaul the finances of the U.S. Postal Service, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk after it passed the House a month earlier.

The Postal Service Reform Act would save the agency an estimated $50 billion over the next decade by ending a controversial requirement for USPS to fund health benefits for retirees up to 75 years into the future. The Postal Service has defaulted on those multibillion-dollar annual payments, which no other public or private organization is required to make.

In addition to a range of other reforms aimed at improving service – including guaranteeing delivery six days a week – the bill requires USPS retirees to enroll in Medicare when they become eligible, a provision that drew criticism from some GOP lawmakers.

While the majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate voted for the bill along with every Democrat, Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch opposed it, as did GOP Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane and Russ Fulcher, who represents North Idaho.

In a statement, Crapo acknowledged the important services the Postal Service provides and agreed “major structural reforms are needed for the organization to return to financial health,” but he said he opposed the bill.

“This legislation mistakenly proposes to address USPS’s financial solvency by shifting its primary responsibility for retiree health benefit financing to another government-funded program that already faces long-term uncertainty,” Crapo said.

Risch, in a Feb. 25 letter co-written with Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., called on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to delay the bill’s passage and revise it, citing the Medicare requirement and other objections.

“Idahoans deserve efficient and reliable service from the United States Postal Service,” Risch said in a statement. “However, pushing retirement plans for postal employees onto Medicare could impact premiums and will shift the funding obligation to taxpayers and beneficiaries.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, one of the bill’s lead sponsors, has said the bill will not raise Medicare premiums or affect the program’s solvency.

In the House, 120 Republicans voted for the bill and 92 opposed it. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, said in a statement he backed the legislation in part because USPS provides services – such as delivering prescriptions – that are especially important in rural areas.

“The Postal Service Reform Act increases accountability for customers and requires USPS to maintain six-day delivery, two issues I have advocated for since coming to Congress,” he said. “I am committed to ensuring our rural communities are provided the services and resources they need, and this legislation is an important step in that direction.”

Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican who represents the eastern half of Idaho, cited the projected savings from ensuring all retired USPS employees enroll in Medicaid, a provision supported by unions that represent postal workers as well as USPS leadership.

“I have heard from many Idahoans who are concerned that current economic woes at the USPS will have a serious negative impact on their small businesses or that it would be an inconvenience in their everyday lives,” Simpson said in a statement. “The Postal Service Reform Act implements key financial reforms sought by Postmaster General DeJoy that will save $22.6 billion over the next 10 years and ensure safe and dependable mail service for Idahoans.”

McMorris Rodgers said while she supports reforming USPS and welcomes six-day-per-week delivery service, she is also concerned the bill could strain the Medicare system.

“I am committed to helping put the USPS on a path towards financial sustainability,” she said in a statement, “but we cannot jeopardize the Medicare benefits of current and soon-to-be beneficiaries.”

Fulcher likewise pointed to the pressure the bill could put on the Medicare trust fund, which is on track to become insolvent by 2026 according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a watchdog organization.

“Revenue generating and cost cutting changes at the USPS are way overdue and should be tested and proven first, before adding this pressure to Medicare,” he said.

Every Democrat in Congress, including Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, voted for the bill. In a statement, Murray called the Postal Service “an essential part of life.”

“We rely on its services to keep in touch with loved ones, exercise our right to vote, get the medications we need, and so much more,” Murray said. “With passage of the Postal Service Reform Act, the USPS will finally get back on solid financial footing and deliver more reliable service to the people of Washington state. Not only is this legislation good for communities everywhere, it’s also a win for the postal workers that we all count on to deliver for America.”

The Postal Service Reform Act passed in the House on Feb. 8 by a vote of 342-92 and in the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 79-19. The bill will now go to Biden, who has said he will sign it into law.