Politics as usual- postal relief measure squeaks through- for nowFriday, February 18th, 2011
Here’s how Politico describes yesterday’s maneuverings in the House on the USPS’s trust fund obligation. Remember that the $4 billion under discussion is NOT taxpayer money- it’s USPS revenue siphoned off by Congress under the 2006 PAEA law:
In the case of the Postal Service, the action closely tracks a House bill approved Sept. 15 but would allow proponents to get past the Senate now without the threat of amendments.
At a meeting of House and Senate Appropriations Committee negotiators Thursday morning, the Postal Service language was incorporated into a stop-gap continuing resolution, or CR, that Congress must enact in the next week to keep the full government operations. As adopted, the postal agency, which now faces a liability of $5.4 billion due Sept. 30, would have to pay only $1.4 billion and would be allowed to effectively defer the remaining $4 billion until after 2017.
â€œThatâ€™s good newsâ€ said a Postal Service spokesman, who argued the arrangement posed no risk for the taxpayer since the retirement fund holds $32 billion at this time. Nonetheless, critics argued the $4 billion will now be added as a potential cost on the governmentâ€™s books given the fragile state of the Postal Service, and the whole handling of the issue is seen by many as a parliamentary sleight-of-hand.
Republicans made no effort to target the postal provision but complained it had been added without warning to the otherwise non-controversial 30 day resolution. Moreover, to doubly protect their work product, the Democratic leadership for the Appropriations Committees has wrapped it into an otherwise non-controversial $4.65 billion budget bill covering the operations of the Capitol and such agencies as the Library of Congress.
This legislative conference report can now be brought back to the House and Senate floor with special privileges that help avoid amendments.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) pointed to fact that Republicans had used a similar ploy with a CR three years ago when they were in power and insisted he had been upfront about the tactics in a public meeting.
Ranking Republican, Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, countered that the whole strategy was â€œone of the most cynical legislative maneuvers Iâ€™ve ever seen.â€ And Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said Democrats made matters worse by wrapping the spending provision into the legislative appropriations bill â€“taking care of Congressâ€™s â€œbackyardâ€ and doing little for the rest of the nation.
On a 7-4 vote, House negotiators rejected an effort by Lewis to strike the proposed CR from the conference report on the legislative bill. But despite the cost, neither House nor Senate Republicans in the talks made any direct effort to target the Postal provision.
In truth, many had voted for the relief when a free-standing bill on the same issue passed the House 388-32 Sept. 15.