WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 - A group of 27 senators called today for "significant improvements" in a bill to modernize the U.S. Postal Service.
In a letter to a Senate panel that oversees the Postal Service, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 26 other senators suggested specific measures to preserve first-class and Saturday mail delivery, stop wholesale closings of rural post offices and mail processing centers, and spare many of the 220,000 jobs that the Postal Service wants to cut.
"Everyone understands that the Postal Service is in the midst of a serious financial crisis that must be addressed," the senators wrote. "But we believe that this financial crisis can be solved in a way that does not substantially slow down the delivery of mail and harm rural America."
The 27 senators, a majority of the Democratic caucus, said they looked forward to working with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Thomas Carper (D-Del.), who chairs a subcommittee that deals with the Postal Service.
Sanders and others said the Postal Service should be prohibited from slowing down first-class mail delivery, which would result if Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe carries out a plan to shutter 252 mail processing centers. The shutdowns would leave the Postal Service with fewer than half of the 508 mail sorting facilities that are in operation today. "If USPS becomes inconvenient and slow, many of its most loyal customers - from home delivery medication companies to newspaper publishers - will turn to private mailing options. Once those customers leave, they are most likely not coming back, and the Postal Service's financial woes will continue to spiral," the letter said.
The letter writers also said the Senate bill should prevent the closure of many rural post offices that are the "heart and soul" of their communities, many of them serving areas that lack Internet and cell phone service.
They want stronger language in the bill to maintain six-day mail delivery. The Postal Service should have to hold off for at least four years before it could take steps to end Saturday deliveries, and then only under very limited circumstances.
The senators also said the Postal Service should be allowed to recover more than $10 billion in overpayments in a pension fund and no longer be forced to put $5.5 billion a year into a retiree health care account that is already flush with funds.
Under a key proposal, the senators called for a Blue-Ribbon Entrepreneurial Commission to develop a new business model for the Postal Service. The committee bill would let the Postal Service offer some new services like issuing state hunting and fishing licenses, for example. The Senate bill should go farther, Sanders and the others said, by implementing innovative ideas for new services recommended by the commission of entrepreneurs, innovators, postmasters, postal workers and others.
In addition to Sanders, the letter was signed by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) Mark Begich (D-Alaska) Mike Bennet (D-Colo.) Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) Ben Cardin (D-Md.) Robert Casey Jr., (D-Pa.) Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) Al Franken (D-Minn.) Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) Tim Johnson (D-N.D.) Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) Mary Landrieu (D-La.) Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) John Tester (D-Mont.) Mark Udall (D-Colo.) Tom Udall (N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
To read the letter, click here.