This vote was on passage of legislation aimed at helping the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service bring its finances back in line.
The postal reform bill would allow the Postal Service to take a number of cost-saving measures such as offering cash incentives to workers willing to retire or quit, closing post offices and mail processing facilities, and ending Saturday delivery. The bill also sought to help the Postal Service raise more revenue through measures such as allowing the agency to deliver alcohol.
Supporters of the bill argued that it would pull the Postal Service’s financial situation out of a steep decline that threatened to bankrupt the agency. In addition, some of the most dramatic changes the Postmaster General wanted to make – the changes that would hurt customers most severely – would be averted by the bill, they said. The Postal Service was losing billions of dollars every year, and officials said they might run out of money in a matter of months.
“We simply can't turn aside, do nothing, and let the Postal Service continue a fiscal spiral downward,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) said. “I know some people think our bill doesn't do enough. They are ready to basically close down a lot of the Postal Service as we know it. Some people think our bill does too much. We naturally think we have struck a sweet spot or a point of common ground.”
Opponents of the postal reform bill argued that the senators who wrote it did not do enough to ensure that it would not increase the federal budget deficit. The bill would provide the Postal Service with $11 billion – or, because of accounting maneuvers, as much as $34 billion, according to opponents – that would be added to the national debt.
Supporters of the bill maintained that this did not amount to new spending because it was a refund of money the Postal Service had overpaid to federal retirement accounts. But opponents argued that it still represented new spending from the U.S. Treasury and, therefore, would push federal spending over the level Congress and the White House set in a bipartisan agreement the previous year. Congress should cut spending elsewhere to make sure the bill did not raise total federal spending, opponents argued.
“If this new spending is necessary, and I suspect some of it may be, then isn't it worth cutting spending somewhere else to pay for it? Do we really have to break our spending agreement when we are facing the fourth straight deficit in excess of $1 trillion?” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said. “I deeply respect my colleagues who have worked on this legislation. It is very complex. It is very important. It is a very difficult issue. But this country has to rationally confront the difficulties in the Postal Service. The world is changing. E-mail continues to erode the market for traditional mail. The Postal Service has to adapt to keep up with the times. We cannot just keep throwing money at it.”
The Senate approved the postal reform bill by a vote of 62-37. Voting “yea” were 49 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 13 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 33 Republicans and 4 Democrats. As a result, the Senate approved legislation aimed at helping the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service bring its finances back in line. However, to become law, the bill would still have to be approved by the House of Representatives and signed into law by the president.