Floor Updates

Sanders, Lieberman, Collins

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012

12:51 PM

Senator Sanders: (12:22 PM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Everybody knows that the Postal Service is, in fact, facing significant financial difficulties. Revenue at the Postal Service has gone down from about $75 billion in 2008 to $66 billion last year. In the midst of the digital revolution, first-class mail has gone down significantly, no debate about that, and it has been replaced and will continue to be replaced by email and the internet. There is no question but that this is a real issue that has got to be addressed. But, let me be very clear that in terms of the revenue problems facing the Postal Service, the major reason, the major problems that we have are not just the decline in first-class mail. It is an issue, it happens not to be the major issue. The major issue, in fact, is that the Postal Service has seen a significant loss in mail volume and revenue due to the most severe recession that our country has faced since the 1930's. As the Postal Service indicated, on May 30, 2010, "The effects of the recession account for two-thirds of the mail volume decline." So the first point we want to understand is yeah, decline of first-class mail is a real issue, but second of all, like businesses all over this country, revenue is being impacted by the recession, and how we can get our country out of the recession, create more jobs, put more money into the hands of working people is, of course, a major, major issue that we must address. And in that regard, I do want to say that in the middle of this terrible recession, when real unemployment, real unemployment is not 8.2% but in fact it is closer to 15%, counting those people who have given up looking for work, those people who are working part time, it would seem to be that this body wants to do everything that we can not to see 200,000 jobs slashed at the United States Postal Service, many of them decent-paying jobs, many of them union jobs. Now, we may not be able to save every one of those jobs. We want the Postal Service to be efficient, but on the other hand I would hope that we see as a significant priority that in the midst of a recession, you do not want to downsize a major American institution by 200,000 jobs, many of them, by the way, jobs belonging to veterans To a very significant degree, the major reason that the Postal Service has been running a deficit since 2007 is due to accounting issues, accounting issues. For example, - and everybody has got to understand this issue if we're going to have an open and honest debate about the future of the Postal Service. Due to a law passed in 2006, the U.S. Postal Service uniquely, uniquely in America, uniquely within government, federal, state, local, uniquely in terms of the private sector, has been forced to prefund 75 years' worth of future retiree health benefits in just ten years. 75 years' worth of future retiree health benefits in just ten years. There is no other agency of government that comes close to that onerous requirement, nor are there any companies in the private sector that have been asked to do that. This mandate costs the U.S. Postal Service between $5.4 billion and $5.8 billion per year. So what I beg of my colleagues is when you look at the financial problems facing the Postal Service, which are real, do not forget that because of this 2006 legislation, the Postal Service needs to come up with approximately $5.5 billion every single year to prefund retiree health care. And this is an important point that I hope my fellow colleagues in the Senate are listening to this. 100 percent of the Postal Service's $20 billion debt from 2007-2010 is the result of this prefunding mandate without this mandate, the Postal Service would have made a $700 million profit, profit from 2007 to 2010."

Senator Lieberman: (12:37 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "In the Postal Reform of 2006, Senator Sanders is quite right, for various reasons which we need not go into, the Postal Service was required to make payments into the retiree health benefit fund that were beyond what most any business or other governmental entity is doing. More than was necessary to sustain the payments and in a much shorter period of time, as the Senator from Vermont said. And I'd say, just to state it as bluntly as I can, maybe too bluntly, the people advocating this were, frankly, concerned that the Postal Service might get to a point where it defaulted, it was no longer to operate, and then the fear was that the taxpayers at some time in the future would be forced to pick up the cost of the retiree health benefits and so this uniquely deed manning responsibility for payment now was put on the Postal Service. I think everybody agrees you particularly in light of all the real problems that the Postal Service has now, that that's just not sensible or fair. So I do want to point out that in the underlying bill, S. 1789, we have attempted to ease the Postal Service's prefunding requirements by immediately beginning a schedule for these payments and we require the office of personnel management when determining how much the Postal Service has to put into the retiree health benefit fund every year to use the same discount rate that's used to calculate the federal government's pension obligations to the federal employees retirement system and the civil service retirement system. And the Postal Service thinks that this accounting change will reduce their unfunded liability for their retiree health benefits plan by literally billions of dollars. The other change made here is that right now the health benefits of retired employees come out of the operating expenses of the Postal Service. That was going to be the case until a date later in this decade. But there's enough money in the fund that it can pick up money that the Postal Service has put in, that it can pick up the cost of health benefits for postal retirees now, and so we require that."

Senator Collins: (12:42 PM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "I do want to address what I believe is another misconception, understand that that the funding for future retirees' health benefits is somehow the cause of the Postal Service's financial crisis. It is not. The fact is that the Postal Service has not made its payment $5.5 billion that was due to this fund in either of the last two fiscal years. And, yet, the Postal Service lost billions in both of those years, despite not paying the $5.5 billion that was due to this fund. In total, the Postal Service has made only $6.9 billion of the $16.4 billion that was required in prefunding payments for the past three years. But has posted losses, total losses for those three years of $26.9 billion. So, it's certainly true that we can and should ease the funding requirement in light of the problems of the Postal Service. It's also true that we don't need to fund to 100%, which the 2006 law requires. And we have indeed lowered the funding level to, I believe, 80%, if memory serves me correctly. And those provisions all have a substantial impact on lowering the annual payment. But, just two final points that I want to reiterate, the prefunding requirement is not the cause of the Postal Service's financial crisis. And, second, that $48 billion liability is very real. It's not going away. And, indeed stretching out the amortization schedule, which I believe we should do, is going to actually cause that liability to increase, because we'll be paying it off over a longer period of time. Nevertheless, I think the changes that we've made in the funding for future retirees' health benefits makes sense. I think they're financially responsible and they will provide some needed relief to the Postal Service without exposing taxpayers to the possibility of having to pick up the tab and without breaking the promise that has been made to postal employees."