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Postal Service overhaul expected to appeal to Dems

| Sunday, April 20, 2014, 8:42 p.m.

Rep. Darrell Issa may introduce a Postal Service overhaul bill this week that more closely tracks with a White House plan, a move that the California Republican hopes will help rally more Democrats, congressional aides say.

With the clock ticking on his tenure as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa, the leading House advocate for legislation to overhaul the financially troubled agency, may introduce the bill as soon as next week, when Congress returns from its break.

The new strategy emerges as roadblocks in the House and Senate continue to dog a three-year effort to stabilize the Postal Ser­vice. The Senate, after painstaking negotiations, passed one postal bill in the last Congress in 2012, but an overall agreement remains elusive.

The agency has lost billions of dollars a year over a decade as first-class mail volume has declined with the rise of the Internet. Postal officials have defaulted on three $5.5 billion payments into a health care fund for retirees. Eliminating or reconfiguring that payment would help ease USPS financial issues, agency and union officials have said.

Issa's committee and its Senate counterpart, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., have passed sweeping bills in recent months that, to varying degrees, allow the Postal Service to cut some services to reduce costs, innovate more to increase revenue and stretch out its debts to retirees.

But nothing has had enough support to pass, and leaders of the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House are not inclined to bring them to a vote before the midterm elections, congressional aides and Postal Service observers say.

So Issa, anxious to pass major legislation before his term as committee chairman ends late this year, took a new tack last week. He invited the Office of Management and Budget to testify before his committee on the postal plan in President Obama's fiscal 2015 budget.

Committee Republicans and the administration found common ground on many issues, including allowing the Postal Service to eliminate Saturday letter delivery, removing legal restrictions on its expansion into new products and services, and reducing the workforce through attrition rather than layoffs.

They disagreed on whether a rate increase that took effect in January should be permanent, an issue that may be decided by the courts in the fall. OMB supports making the hike permanent, while Republicans oppose it.

Issa said at the close of the hearing that he would use the administration's plan, minus the permanent rate increase, as a “good starting point” for a new bill he hopes the administration “would broadly push all parties to embrace.”

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