Floor Updates

Merkley, Lieberman, Mikulski, Collins

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill (S. 1925)

Apr 18 2012

11:57 AM

Senator Merkley: (11:02 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Our Postal Service is facing a challenging fiscal situation, no doubt. Americans' habits with first-class mail has changed and there's greater contribution with UPS and FedEx. Congress imposed $5.5 billion yearly financing of health care costs for health care workers 75 years in the future - that is, health care costs not just for folks who aren't yet employed with the post office but for future employees who have not yet been born. So, yes, the post office system must restructure but we're going to start with congress reversing this $5.5 billion health care requirement for advanced yearly health care requirements. What absolutely does not make sense is to close our rural post offices. In a rural town the post office is the only place where nearby residents can send and receive mail. But it is more than that. It is a shipping center for the small businesses of the communities; it is the pharmacy for seniors and others who need medicines through the mail; it is the community center where folks gather and exchange information; in short, it is at the very heart of our rural communities. Let's start by examining the critical role of rural post offices on small businesses. Virtually every small town is home to a host of small businesses that take orders through the mail and ship their products through the mail. What would happen to a small business's efficiency if it had to drive an additional 50 miles per day in order to pick up orders and mail products in well, quite obviously, it would destroy their efficiency, and they'd think about shutting down, or they'd think about shutting down. What would happen to a small business's profit margin if they had to spend more on gas, very expensive gas, as we all know? It would do a lot of did a j to their bottom line and again they would think about shutting down or moving. And what would the impact be to the small communities of the small businesses shutting down on the one hand moving? Well, it would do enormous damage. When we are talking about shutting down rural post offices that are many miles from the next possible opportunity to receive orders and ship products, we are talking about destroying the economic heart of our small towns. It is unacceptable."

Senator Lieberman: (11:17 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "The postmaster set as a goal at the outset to try to cut about $20 billion from the annual operating expenses of the post office - that's a tough number; that is over the next three or four years - we think this bill and the post office seems to agree doesn't quite do that but gets pretty close to it. Certainly is somewhere within the $15 billion to $20 billion range. Some of the elements that say a lot are the money we provide for incentivizing postal workers to retire early. That's an $8 billion annual savings. There are significant - $8 billion annual saving. There are significant savings in terms of the mail processing facilities, in the billions. The reality is, interestingly enough, as I think my friend from Oregon knows, that the amount of money saved if the postmaster actually closed the 3,700 post offices that he put on the list of possible closings is relatively small. We're talking about $150 million to $200 million if he closed all of them. As compared to the billions in the other items we're doing and relating that number to what you described in the examples you've given, what we heard in our committee, I think this is an area in which I personally believe we've got to tread cautiously."

Senator Mikulski: (11:24 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "The post office is not a business. It is a public utility, and we need to think of it as a public utility. That which provides universal service to keep the juice and electricity of our economy going. And if we think of it as a public utility, mandated by a national interest to provide universal service, then that's the way we should think about it. Will it require subsidy? Yes. Does it require an open checkbook? No. Does it require reform? Yes. But the post office has reformed itself, from the days of pony express to the days of today. They had to face the challenge when they invented western union. They faced a challenge when we had a telephone. Why do we need the post office? Time and time again the post office is needed to reform. It's time to reform again. But if we're going to reform, we need to make sure we provide safeguards to protect rural communities, to protect small businesses and to protect vulnerable populations that don't have access to the internet. We have a digital divide in the United States of America. We don't have a universal super information highway in the United States of America. We do have a digital divide, and the divide is coming because of both geography, and it comes because of income. Not everybody walks around with these cool 500 devices. So people rely on the post office for correspondence, for paychecks, for the delivery of products that have been ordered over the internet, those eBay entrepreneurs that we know about. Small business relies on them for time-sensitive business documents and time-sensitive delivery of products. This is even more important for rural areas. Rural areas have a unique geography, and they can complicate mail delivery or delay. I represent the mountain counties of western Maryland. At times that weather is so rugged up there, you need a snowmobile to get through. Then there is the eastern shore, the beautiful, dynamic, charming eastern shore. But it's nine counties stretching over 150 to close to 200 miles, sometimes in places that don't even have cell phone coverage. Reductions in delivery standards, closing a post office and, most of all, closing a processing center would have a draconian impact."
  • Spoke on Mikulski amendments to the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "I have four amendments pending to get the post office to make sure that they not only - what they're doing right now, they look at what is the impact of what they're doing on the post office. Senator Barb looks at the impact that they're having on the customer and on the community. Remember, think of it as a public utility, and we're turning the lights off on the eastern shore. So my first amendment says no processing center can be closed unless a governor from the state certifies that a closure won't harm the community or disrupt commerce. My second amendment says no processing center can be closed unless an independent third party like the commission talks about the impact on jobs, unemployment rate and small business, and to make the study public. My third maintains a standard of delivery for overnight. On that eastern shore, my veterans need their medical care, my seniors need to be able to get their social security checks, and also business. You know, parts of this come through this processing center are even live birds. Are they going to sit around and go back and forth to Baltimore? Man, does that ruffle my feathers, I can tell you that right now. And fourth, it's strictly zip code politics. I will offer an amendment to prevent the closing of the eastern post office."

Senator Collins: (11:34 AM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "I have a similar problem in my home state of Maine where a processing center has been targeted for closure that would have an extraordinarily detrimental impact on mail delivery for two-thirds of the state of Maine. It makes no sense whatsoever, and it would do away with overnight delivery just as the senator has indicated. I would encourage her to continue to work with us and also to look at the specific provisions that we put into the substitute that reflects the input that we have had from her and many other concerned senators, and one of those standards deals with the overnight delivery and the need to maintain that service of standard - that standard of service. This is an advantage that the Postal Service has and it helps it keep customers, so to do away with overnight delivery, in my view, would be foolhardy and it would actually cause more mailers to leave the Postal Service, which would produce some further decline in volume and thus revenues would plummet still further. So I understand a lot of the concerns that the senator from Maryland has raised. I do think we have taken care of some of her concerns in the new substitute that we have proposed on a bipartisan basis, but we look forward to continuing to work with her to address her concerns."

Senator Mikulski: (11:36 AM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "First of all, I really do thank you for the substitute. I think it does make substantial improvement to the bill. It demonstrates a listening to colleagues and also to people who are affected. I am familiar when we worked on home health care and you and I teamed up because in parts of Maine and parts of western Maryland, we had nurses, visiting nurses on snowmobiles and they weren't going to be reimbursed. So we have an understanding of these rural, rugged communities. I do want to work with you, and in the spirit and tone represented by you and Senator Lieberman, perhaps we could have some additional conversations."

Senator Lieberman: (11:37 AM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "We have made some changes in this substitute that still will require overnight delivery less broadly than before because we're trying to deal with how to responsibly react to the precipitous drop in mail volume because of the internet, and yet not reduce the quality of service so much that people leave the mail system even more. I used an analogy yesterday which is probably not exact, but way back when I was in the state senate in Connecticut, we had a crisis in the financing of our public bus system, and one of the things that was done that seemed quite logical at the time, raise the price of the bus fare. Well, what do you think happened in response to that? Fewer people were riding the buses, and the fiscal problem got worse. But there is a reality here. The mail volume has dropped so much that we have got to close some of the mail processing facilities or - and Senator Collins and I feel very strongly about this - we have got to thin out the number of personnel working at the facilities. We put this in here as a condition which we thought originally was what the postmaster was going to be interested in. Don't just precipitously close a lot of mail processing facilities. First - and we require this now - you've got to consider a plan to reduce the capacity of a particular facility and particularly the number of people working there before you absolutely close it."

Senator Collins: (11:39 AM)
  • Spoke on the Postal Reform bill.
    • SUMMARY "Yesterday, I heard one of our colleagues describe this refund of $11 billion as being an overpayment that will come from taxpayer pockets. Madam president, that is just not an accurate statement. Now, I realize this bill is very complex, so I want to provide to my colleagues some additional information, so you don't have to just take my word for it. You can take the word of the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service. The FERS system does have tax dollars in it from federal agencies that are paying in for their employees, and of course the employees also contribute to the system, but when it comes to the Postal Service, the money is not coming from taxpayers. The contributions are not coming from taxpayers. They are coming from postal employees themselves, and they are coming from the Postal Service which is using its revenue from postage and other services, and thus it's the ratepayers' money. So the Inspector General makes this very clear in his letter ... The Inspector General verifies the amount of the overpayment. His letter dated February 2, 2012, says the postal surplus for the federal employees retirement system, FERS, has been projected to be $11.4 billion for fiscal year 2011. The Office of Personnel Management made this projection as of September 30 of 2011. In addition, OPM has projected the postal surplus of the civil service retirement system to be $1.7 billion for fiscal year 2011. We're not trying to deal with that. We're only dealing with the FERS surplus. Now, here's the key paragraph. The source of the FERS funding comes from two streams of revenue. First, the U.S. Postal Service contributes 11.9% of employees' salaries to the fund. And second, the employees contribute 0.8%. The Postal Service contribution comes from revenue paid for postage, and this money comes from the ratepayers. The employee contribution, as with all federal employees, is made in exchange for a defined benefit. This could not be clearer. This is not taxpayers' money and no matter how many times some understanding of how the system works I can understand the confusion, because if it were a federal agency, a regular federal agency, it would be taxpayer money. But it's the Postal Service, and it is not taxpayer money. And that is important. The other important point I want to make is that this is a real overpayment. It has been verified by an independent board of actuaries. This isn't something that the Postal Service came up with or that our committee came up with. This has been verified by the OPM board of actuaries, an independent body comprised of private-sector actuaries that advises the office of actuaries within OPM and reviews annual reports. So it's not even OPM's actuaries. It is an independent board of private-sector actuaries that is - that has verified that this is in fact an overpayment and it is $11.4 billion."

Senator Lieberman: (11:51 AM)
  • Responded.
    • SUMMARY "It is a misunderstanding, really a misstatement, to say that the money that the post - to say that the money that the Postal Service will be refunded is taxpayer money. It is not. It is the return of money that was collected, as Senator Collins has said, by the post office from ratepayers and from their own employees, which was mistakenly put into this retirement fund. This is no more a bailout with taxpayer money than in the case, which happens, where an individual or a business overpays taxes to the federal government. And when that miscalculation or error is discovered, they naturally ask for a refund. And that's exactly what's happening here with the Postal Service and is critically important to this bill and to the future of the Postal Service because we're requiring in the bill and authorizing that the money refunded not be used for more spending but be used to, one, pay down the debt and, two, make investments by incentivizing retirement of employees that will have enormously important annual effects on the Postal Service's budget, which is to say that the postmaster believes that with the money he'll receive back - and really not the majority of it - he can incentivize retirement from approximately 100,000 current employees of the Postal Service, which is the goal we set for him in this bill. That is result in savings of over $8 billion a year for the Postal Service. So this is not only a refund of the Postal Service's own money, not taxpayer money, but it's going to be used to save $8 billion a year, which is the largest saving component of the proposal that we've made."