WASHINGTON, April 25 - The Senate today voted 62-37 for a bill that Sen. Bernie Sanders helped craft to modernize the U.S. Postal Service, save tens of thousands of jobs and spare rural post offices and scores of mail sorting plants threatened with closure.
Sanders (I-Vt.) said a processing center at White River Junction, Vt., would remain open and 15 rural Vermont post offices are likely to win reprieves under the Senate-passed measure that now goes to the House.
"This comprehensive postal reform legislation will preserve vitally important rural post offices and mail processing plants," Sanders said. "It also would give the Postal Service the flexibility that it needs to raise additional revenue in the years to come by offering innovative new products and services in the digital age.
"There is no question that the Postal Service needs to become more entrepreneurial to meet the changing needs of the digital revolution, but the answer is not to make mail delivery slower. The answer is not to radically downsize the Postal Service. The answer is not to eliminate over 200,000 jobs in the midst of a terrible recession. The answer is not to devastate rural communities by closing their post offices,' Sanders added.
The bill includes provisions to keep overnight delivery standards for regional areas for at least three years. It would also prevent the Postal Service from eliminating Saturday mail delivery for two years and make it much more difficult for Saturday mail delivery to end after the two-year ban. It creates a commission Sanders suggested to come up with ways for the Postal Service to become more entrepreneurial as it adjusts to mail volume changes caused by e-mail and the Internet. Financial pressure on the Postal Service would be relieved by reducing obligations to pay for future and current retiree health benefits by some $5.5 billion a year.
The bill also includes a Sanders-backed provision that would prevent rural post offices from being closed in areas that don't have access to broadband Internet; if seniors and other citizens would not receive substantially similar access to prescription drugs and other timely mail services; and if businesses would suffer significant financial losses as a result of the closure. The amendment also would impose a one-year moratorium of the closure of many rural post offices.
Another amendment added to the bill would allow the Postal Regulatory Commission to prevent the Postal Service from closing mail processing facilities and post offices if the Postal Service fails to follow strong new service standards detailed in the bill.
At stake were more than 200,000 jobs that were in jeopardy as part of a cost-cutting plan designed by the Postal Service. It called for closing up to 252 mail-processing centers and 3,700 post offices.
The Senate bill would keep open more than 100 mail processing plants that were on the Postal Service chopping block. It also would prevent the closing of many of the more than 3,600 mostly rural post offices from being closed and would require additional reviews before a facility could be shuttered.
At the request of Sanders and other senators, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe last December agreed to delay any closings until May 15 to give Congress time to pass legislation. A provision in the Senate bill would extend the moratorium until after the House acts and President Barack Obama signs the postal reform bill.