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Bill to reform costly postal pension system languishes in Congress



Published: Fri, February 24, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Karl Henkel

khenkel@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

While Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill continue to debate the Keystone XL Pipeline — which some say could create 20,000 jobs — they continue to let slide the possibility of losing 150,000 postal-service jobs.

Since mid-December, when the U.S. Postal Service agreed to postpone closing any post offices or mail facilities — including in Youngstown — Congress has done little to aid the financially strapped entity.

One local political scientist thinks postal closings won’t go smoothly but not for business reasons.

It’s strictly political.

William Binning, retired chairman of the Youngstown State University political science department, said he believes closings will move slowly because of the coming election.

“We’re moving into the electoral season,” he said. “No congressman in an electoral race wants postal workers to get pink-slipped.

“If I was an incumbent congressman, I’d be yelping and calling the postal service on a regular basis.”

That’s exactly what one U.S. senator is doing.

“The five-month moratorium was agreed to in good faith to provide time for the USPS, Congress and local stakeholders to address issues with the current system,” said Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Avon, Ohio.

“Instead of taking steps that would lead to job loss and degradation of services for Ohio businesses and families, the USPS should focus on common-sense solutions that improve its fiscal solvency.”

The postal service, however, says it can’t focus on those solutions because of a $5.5 billion retiree health-care benefit prefunding program.

That program was instituted in 2006 by Congress, which overwhelmingly passed the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act.

U.S. Rep Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, said in a previous interview he voted for the act at the time.

“It’s a different time now,” he said. “It looks like for the next few decades and more, [the pensions] are secure.”

Ryan on Thursday said he supports legislation that would reverse the 2006 bill.

“It has yet to receive the support it needs to get to the president’s desk,” Ryan said.

The program has led to annual deficits, and the postal service has borrowed money from the U.S. Treasury.

As the postal service continues to become more fiscally ineffective, Congress is considering a couple of bills, including Brown’s Postal Service Protection Act.

The legislation would eliminate the requirement that the postal service prefund 75 years’ worth of future retiree health benefits.

But instead of debating that bill, legislators have focused on other issues, including:

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, aimed at preventing members of Congress from investing in companies of which they have intimate knowledge.

The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, both aimed to penalize those who steal from the World Wide Web — already a punishable crime.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, which is still in draft form but would promote sharing of information of perceived cybersecurity threats between private entities and the federal government.


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