The Senate on Tuesday will hold a lengthy series of votes on long-rumored changes to the U.S. Postal Service that could include the elimination of Saturday mail delivery and the shuttering of 3,700 post offices nationwide.
Up to 42 votes are scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but senators are negotiating to lower that number to the low 20s.
At issue is a trend that is both lightening postal workers' burden but also causing a financial crisis.
Although the U.S. Postal Service handles 554 million pieces of mail per day - half of the world's total - that volume has dropped by 21 percent over the past five years due to an explosion in e-mail usage and online bill payments. The lower volume means lower revenues at a time when the agency is already stressed by rising operating costs such as gas prices.
Republicans want to curtail postal union workers' rights and slash costs at the agency, while Democrats want to preserve jobs and services. The legislation is Senate Bill 1789, the 21st Century Postal Service Act.
Senators from states with large rural areas took to the chamber floor on Thursday to speak out on their behalf, saying mail service is essential to remote areas. Some, such as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., are going so far as to propose amendments to safeguard rural postal service.
But even Democratic leaders said the USPS will have to fix its finances.
"The challenge facing the Postal Service is how to adapt to decreasing volume of mail rather than how to deal with increasing demand," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a floor speech on Thursday.
Reid said the Senate bill under consideration would preserve the agency's union jobs as well as Saturday mail delivery, while a separate bill being debated in the Republican-controlled House would not.
"The Senate bill we're considering is not perfect," Reid said. "It won't save every post office, every job or distribution center. It won't please every Senator, every postal worker or every customer."
"But unlike the House legislation, it is a strong, bipartisan bill that will modernize an institution enshrined in the Constitution without gutting its mission," he added.
by RTT Staff Writer
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