Issa bill would repeal military COLA cuts, allow USPS to move to 5-day delivery

Thursday - 1/2/2014, 4:10pm EST

A new bill would repeal reductions in military pensions approved by Congress late last month as part of the bipartisan budget deal and allow the U.S. Postal Service to reduce regular mail delivery to five days a week.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, introduced the legislation Dec. 19, shortly before Congress decamped for the holidays.

The bill would repeal a provision in the Bipartisan Budget Act that curtails cost-of-living adjustments for certain military retirees. Starting in December 2015, COLAs for those under age 62 would be equal to inflation minus 1 percent, a measure that nets $6.2 billion in savings over 10 years, according to budget estimates.

However, veterans groups have denounced the measure, and widespread concern from Capitol Hill and the Pentagon, alike, about how the proposal would impact disabled veterans, has led lawmakers to reconsider the issue.

5-day delivery proposal resurrected

Issa's bill offsets the restoration of the full COLA amount by allowing the Postal Service to move toward five-day mail delivery, although it would retain package deliveries on Saturday.

That's identical to a plan announced by Postmaster General Pat Donahoe last February, which he said would save the agency $2 billion a year and help to shore up the agency's finances.

In fact, Issa says allowing the Postal Service to move to a "modified" delivery schedule would replace the lost savings from restoring the full COLA amount three times over — saving $17 billion over the next decade.

"This common sense reform will help restore the cash-strapped Postal Service Service to long-term solvency and is supported by the President and key Congressional leaders in both chambers," Issa said in a statement.

President Barack Obama, in his official 2014 budget proposal, supported the USPS plan for five-day delivery. However, many of Issa's Democratic counterparts on the oversight committee as well as postal-employee unions staunchly opposed the move.

Postal officials later backed down after determining that provision tucked into an annual spending bill passed by Congress prohibited the move.

Issa to Appropriations Committee: Don't block delivery changes

Things could be different this year, though.

Issa recently wrote to the head of the Appropriations Committee requesting that any new spending bills passed after the current stopgap continuing resolution expires Jan. 15 "not include the customary provision regarding mail delivery standards that impedes the Postal Service from revising its delivery schedule," Issa wrote in the Dec. 19 letter to Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). "Now is the time for making difficult but reasonable budgetary decisions. No new legislation should continue a provision that forces an executive branch entity to dig itself deper into debt, increasing a multibillion liability that taxpayers are in danger of assuming."

Lawmakers last term showed little appetite for passing comprehensive postal reform, which Donahoe maintains the agency needs to stay afloat.

Issa's committee approved major legislation in July, but without a single Democratic vote. There's been more comity in the Senate between Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). But that hasn't translated into action. The committee delayed hearings on a draft bipartisan bill numerous times and ended the year empty-handed.

Meanwhile, the red ink continues to pile up. USPS losses for 2013 amounted to $5 billion last year, an improvement over the $16 billion lost in fiscal 2012. Much of the losses stem from a requirement to prepay future retirees' health care costs.

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