Senators on Wednesday introduced bipartisan legislation that would be the most significant overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service in years, after the beleaguered agency repeatedly asked Congress for help to address its bleak financial situation.
Legislation to address the Postal Service’s dire finances has languished in Congress for years. But with enough Republican support to pass the Senate, the announcement of the bill, called the Postal Service Reform Act of 2021, is an unexpected indication of bipartisan compromise in a divided Congress.
The legislation would eliminate the requirement that the agency pre-fund its health benefits for retirees under a 2006 law and would integrate its health care with Medicare, which the senators and the Postal Service both estimate could save the agency more than $40 billion over the next decade.
In addition, the bill would require that the agency publish easily accessible weekly service data on its website, which would allow customers to search information by street address, ZIP Code or post office box. The Postal Service would also have to issue a detailed report on its finances and operations to Congress every six months and maintain a delivery standard of at least six days a week.
The agency, which is supposed to be self-sustaining, has lost $87 billion in the past 14 fiscal years and is projected to lose another $9.7 billion in fiscal 2021.
In March, the Postal Service published a 10-year plan to stabilize its finances that included the elimination of the pre-funding requirement as a pillar. Other provisions, including the lengthening of promised delivery times and reduced hours, were immediately condemned by congressional Democrats. The legislation would not reverse the service cutbacks.
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the legislation, coupled with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s divisive 10-year plan, could “help turn around the substantial losses at the Postal Service over the last decade and ensure self-sustaining, high-quality postal service for all Americans.”
The Post Service “remains a key part of American life,” said Mr. Portman, who pushed the bill with Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan.
Ten Senate Republicans joined Mr. Portman as co-sponsors, including Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley of Missouri, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. Their support would give Democrats the requisite Republican support to overcome a potential filibuster in the Senate. A companion bill passed through the House Committee on Oversight and Reform last week with bipartisan support. In statements, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the committee’s chairwoman, and its top Republican, Representative James R. Comer of Kentucky, underscored the support from both parties.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Postal Service said the agency was “encouraged” by the introduction of bipartisan and bicameral legislation.
Although the Postal Service has not yet reviewed the Senate language, the House bill “does contain the long-requested reforms of our retiree health benefits,” said the spokesman, David Partenheimer. “This will be a major step forward for financial sustainability of the Postal Service.”
The agency was under intense scrutiny last summer, when Mr. DeJoy, the new postmaster general and a Trump megadonor, instituted operational changes that coincided with nationwide slowdowns in mail delivery. Democrats accused Mr. DeJoy and the agency’s board of governors, which was made up entirely of Trump appointees, of trying to sabotage the 2020 election, in which a record number of votes were cast by mail.
A slew of lawsuits filed in federal court forced the agency to halt its operational changes and publish regular reports on service performance that would disclose its rate of on-time delivery and specifically the rate of on-time delivery of ballots. However, those disclosures became much more infrequent after the election, even as on-time delivery rates reached record lows during a crushing holiday season.
Mr. DeJoy testified to Congress several times in the past year, and congressional Democrats grilled him about his ties to President Donald J. Trump and his plans for the agency’s future. Republicans also lambasted Democrats for the political sparring over the Postal Service last summer. Some Democrats continued to call for Mr. DeJoy’s resignation well after the election, along with those of the Trump appointees confirmed to the agency’s board of governors.
Since the release of the Postal Service’s 10-year plan, the Senate has confirmed two of President Biden’s three picks to the agency’s board of governors, which will offset the Republicans’ advantage on the board. The agency has also installed a new deputy postmaster general, Douglas Tulino, a 41-year veteran of the Postal Service and its chief human resources officer.
Despite the partisan fight over the plans, Democrats appeared willing to fulfill Mr. DeJoy’s requests. Mr. Peters called the legislation common sense.
“For decades, the Postal Service has struggled to overcome unfair and burdensome financial requirements that risk its ability to continue providing reliable service in the long run,” the senator said in a statement. “This common-sense, bipartisan legislation would help put the Postal Service on a sustainable financial footing, ensure it is more transparent and accountable to the American people, and support hardworking postal workers who deliver rain or shine to communities all across the country.”