A bill intended to reform the U. S. Postal Service passed the U. S. Senate Wednesday, with Montana’s senators praising amendments they sponsored or supported that they say will keep rural service running well in the future.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Montanans depend on the post office to deliver medications, to do business and to vote.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., praised the passage of the bill and amendments, including a proposal he sponsored with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to cut the salaries of top Postal Service executives by one third.
“Holding the Postal Service's top leaders more accountable will protect rural America, and make sure the Postal Service isn’t making irresponsible decisions, ” Tester said.
The bill bars the Postal Service from closing any offices for a year. The original amendment put a closure moratorium in effect for two years, but that was reduced while the Senate debated the bill and its amendments on the floor.
The House of Representatives is considering its own bill to reform the Postal Service, which will need to be voted and the differences between the bills reconciled or discarded for the House to take up the Senate version.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who is challenging Tester in this year’s Senate election, said he will take a look at the Senate version.
“I'm glad to see Congress is taking steps to address the fiscal problems facing the Postal Service, ” Rehberg said this morning. “I'm carefully studying the Senate's proposal and working closely with Montanans to ensure that any action taken — on either side of the aisle — works first and foremost for rural America. ”
Andrea Helling, Tester’s communications director, said the senator is concerned that the main thrust of the bill the House is working on is to move toward privatizing mail service, which he believes should be kept public.
“Jon will be keeping a close eye on what that looks like, ” she said this morning.
Baucus and Tester had expressed concern that the Senate reform bill wasn’t doing enough to protect service in rural areas.
Tester said in a press conference last week that the biggest problem faced by the Postal Service — running into the red in its budget — would be solved by the bill. The bill would remove requirements that the Postal Service prepay retirement benefits for its employees, something no other U. S. government agency has to do, he said.
Removing that requirement would put the service’s budget back in the black, Tester said.
But their main concern was that the bill did not prevent the closure of post offices and processing centers.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahue proposed closing some 3,700 post offices and also closing some processing centers in an effort to save money.
Baucus’ release said the closures wouldn’t even make a dent in the service’s deficit.
Donahue said the Postal Service must reduce spending by $20 billion by 2015, but closing all 3,700 post offices nationwide is only estimated to save $240 million. Closing all 85 of the Montana post offices on the list was only projected to save approximately $4.7 million annually, he said.
The closures could impact Montana heavily, the release added. While the Postal Service estimated that, nationwide, 90 percent of the 3,700 post offices it proposes closing are within 10 miles of another post office, it said, in Montana, of the 85 post offices proposed for closure, almost 90 percent of them are more than 10 miles from another post office.
Tester also pushed for an amendment that was included in the bill that allows the Postal Regulatory Commission to review proposed closures and overturn them if they fail to meet the criteria established in the bill.
Baucus said Wednesday that the requirements in the bill also should prevent the closure of mail processing centers proposed for closure in Wolf Point, Helena and Butte, although the consideration of consolidating a processing center in Kalispell with that in Missoula might continue to move forward.
An amendment proposed by Baucus to prevent closure of any facilities before Nov. 13 in states that conduct all elections by mail or permit no-excuse balloting, including Montana, was also included.
Amendments intended to protect rural mail service
The office of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., provided details of some amendments sponsored by him and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and other senators, intended to protect rural mail service in the reform of the U. S. Postal Service:
• Prevent any rural post office from being closed for the next year and put specific requirements in place to protect rural offices after the one-year moratorium expires, including that retail services like buying stamps and picking up packages are available;
• Ensure that the Postal Service would not close a rural post office unless the nearest post office is within 10 miles driving distance;
• Ensure that seniors and persons with disabilities will receive the same or substantially similar service — including access to prescription medication sent through the mail;
• Ensure that businesses in the community will not suffer economic loss, and, the economic loss to the community resulting from the closure will not exceed the savings the Postal Service obtains by closing the post office;
• The area served by the post office has adequate access to wired broadband Internet service;
• Ensure that postal facility closures or changes in service do not affect the outcome of elections in Montana and other states where many voters vote via mail.