WILL CONGRESS DELIVER POSTAL REFORM LEGISLATION?

In the opinion of Fred Heller, Legislative Director
Spring 2006 newsletter

On February 9, 2006, the U.S. Senate passed postal reform bill S-662 with a nearly unanimous vote. During the summer of 2005, the House of Representatives passed HR-22, their version of postal reform, with nearly the same overwhelming vote. Now, postal reform steps to the next level. To reconcile the differences between the two bills, a conference committee comprised of both Senators and Representatives from each political party will meet to draft a single postal reform bill. Upon completion, the compromise version of postal reform legislation will be returned to both the Senate and the House for a final vote. Assuming that the bill is approved by both houses, it will then be sent to President Bush for his signature or veto.

The President has promised that he will sign into law any postal reform bill that is fair to taxpayers, postal rate-payers, the U.S. Postal Service and its personnel, and that "...does not have an adverse impact on the federal budget." Unfortunately, two of the major provisions of each bill will, in the President's estimation, have just that effect on the budget. Both bills contain language that will release from escrow approximately $3 billion that the USPS has "saved" by ending overpayments to the Civil Service Retirement System. The House and Senate bills will also return military retirement benefit obligations to the United States Treasury Department. Currently, the USPS is the only federal agency that is required to pay these costs. Consequently, President Bush has vowed to veto any postal reform legislation that contains either of these provisions.

In recent months, the Postal Service has announced at the national level, that it shares the viewpoint of its workforce labor unions, pushing for inclusion of both the escrow provision and the military retirement provision into any postal reform plan. In addition, the unions have raised objection to any attempt to grant excessive authority to a Postal Regulatory Board, and also to any attempt to change OWCP benefits as they apply to postal workers only. What provisions will the final postal reform bill include? What provisions will be eliminated? What provisions will be written in a compromise form? We can only wait for the conference committee to complete its work before we see exactly what will be sent to the President.

As we wait for the conference committee's final product, all APWU members should continue to contact their respective Senators and Representatives, reminding them of the postal reform provisions that are important to us. Remember: Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have to vote one last time to approve the conference committee's final version of postal reform legislation, before it can be sent to President Bush for his action. Union members must remain aggressive to insure that any postal reform legislation that is finally enacted into law will featureour stamp of approval.

If, as promised, President Bush vetoes the reform bill that finally will find its way to his desk, will Congress act to override his veto? At the beginning of the President's second term, it was my opinion that Congress would never challenge Mr. Bush with an override. Events of recent months, however, have shown a significant drop in his national approval rating as well as a weakening of his support, even from loyal GOP allies. Response to the nominationn of Harriet Miers as a Supreme Court justice was overwhelmingly negative, to the extent that she felt pressured to remove herself from consideration.

Most significant, however, has been the reaction to the attempt of Dubai Ports World to acquire a British-based company that exercised control over six major U.S. ports. President Bush was in favor of DPW operating our shipping terminals because he sees the United Arab Emirates as an ally in the fight against terrorism. Congress, though, has had difficulty with the fact that Mr. Bush, so obsessed with national security and terrorism, would push for legislation that would allow an organization from a country that has allegedly been the home of several worldwide terrorists, as well as a launder center for terrorist funding, to control United States seaports.

Congress was victorious in the ensuing power struggle. The President has been often criticized for his attempts to broaden executive power, but the House Appropriations Committee sent him a strong message regarding his effort to push through legislation confirming Dubai Ports World. The committee voted 62-2 to add an amendment that would block DPW from operating U.S. ports, to a bill that was generally considered "must pass" legislation. That was a $68 billion funding bill for Hurricane Katrina relief, as well as funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislative confrontation never materialized, as Dubai Ports World withdrew from consideration to operate U.S. ports, but the crack in the President's armor is apparent.

The November elections take on added importance in light of the recent unrest within the Republican Party. This November will find 33 Senators and all 435 members of the House of Representatives, as well as 38 governors, on the ballot. Normally, years that do not feature Presidential elections do not attract large numbers of voters to the polls, but we, as APWU members with a lot at stake in our political future, must continue to be relentless in applying our influence. A change in just a few seats in both houses could begin to break the GOP stronghold. Get to the polls for the primary election as well as the general elections in November! Continue to contact your legislators! If you're not on a first-name basis with the office aides and interns, you'll just have to call more often! Finally: Don't Forget COPA! Dead Presidents are well respected by living legislators.