Looks like “Clerk Rene” has suddenly developed a case of extreme shyness! You may recall the twitter account we discovered last week whose sole purpose appeared to be giving praise and glory to Congressman Dennis Ross. (All of the 34 tweets the account had posted were directed to @RepDennisRoss, and were sometimes embarrassingly worshipful). ClerkRene, who claimed to be a postal employee (although we couldn’t find an actual postal worker named Rene Gray), stopped posting his fawning tributes to Dennis after we ran our story. Earlier today, when I checked to see if the adorable Pomeranian had updated his feed, I was disappointed to find this:
Sadly, no one appears to have bothered to request access to “Rene”‘s protected tweets- not even his heroes, Darrell ‘n’ Dennis, who are now the only accounts “Rene” follows.
In other twitter news, Congressman Ross ended the conversation he started with me about the PAEA trust fund after I pointed out that he was lying. Some people are so sensitive! Oh well- at least we have our memories (and screen captures!):
Dennis may be reading the Twitter on his Blackberry, but he doesn’t seem to be very good at comprehending what he reads. Most literate readers of this blog would have noticed my earlier posting, where I pointed out that way back in March I suggested that there was a pretty good argument for the proposition that the USPS was not owed any money for the alleged CSRS overcharges. Dennis- try following the links- they’re there for a reason.
Dennis’s suggestion that my “current argument = USPS would make money if it didnt follow the law”, is, of course, nonsense. My “current argument”, which also happens to be the same argument I have been making for more years than Dennis has been a Congressman, is that the USPS has been profitable since 2006 before the $5.5 billion trust fund charge Dennis’s colleagues slapped on the USPS in 2006.
That, Dennis, is a fact- not an “argument”.
What’s amusing about Dennis’s argument is the way he regards PAEA as something akin to sacred scripture. It’s The Law. USPS only makes profits if it ignores The Law. Funny how Dennis and his tea baggin’ buddies don’t seem to have the same reverence for other laws, like, say, health care reform, or environmental protection, or worker safety.
I’m flattered that Congressman Ross reads our blog (or at least the headlines feed on Twitter). But his contempt for the truth can be breathtaking- even for a politician. Here’s his response to our latest item on the GAO report on options for the USPS, where we pointed out that GAO ignored the fact that all of the USPS’s losses since 2006 are due to the prefunding requirement:
Note that Dennis doesn’t actually dispute what we said- he can’t, at least not without lying. So instead he tries to confuse the issue by bringing in the previous GAO report on the alleged CSRS overcharges, and accusing us of a “bait and switch”. Dennis would like to give the impression that we only started talking about the prefunding issue after GAO produced its report denying the USPS was overcharged for CSRS pensions by $50-75 billion. But Dennis knows that’s a lie. In March, for instance, we offered Dennis a little history lesson on the prefunding issue. We provided an even more detailed accounting of the history of prefunding in “Postal Ponzi Scheme” back in 2009, long before Dennis was elected to Congress!
While IRET is a well known right wing “think tank” financed by, among others, the Scaife and Koch family foundations, it’s difficult to argue with one crucial point raised by the report: even if one accepts the proposition that the USPS overpaid the Treasury by $75 billion since 1971, it isn’t owed any money.
That conclusion stems from the simple fact of the USPS rate setting process- because the USPS was required to break even over time, its rates took into consideration all of its expenses- including the alleged $75 billion overcharge. Had the USPS been charged $75 billion less, its rates would have been proportionately lower, leaving its cumulative net income unchanged.
So no, Dennis, I’m not doing bait and switch. I’ve been talking about prefunding for years, and I’ve also pointed out the holes in the CSRS overcharge argument. But then, I’m just a blogger, not one of those “lying politicians” you talk about on your Facebook page.
Before you ask, yes, it’s a slow news day in the postal world. So what better way to pass the time than checking Twitter for interesting and amusing tidbits. One that caught my eye was the ongoing conversation between Congressman Dennis Ross and an individual who claims to be a postal employee named Rene Gray, or @ClerkRene. Based on other exchanges Dennis has had with postal workers, you might expect the discussion to be a bit testy, but you’d be wrong. Rene seems to be a big fan of the Congressman. How big? Well, since Rene joined Twitter last month he’s sent 34 tweets- and every single one of them is addressed to @RepDennisRoss.
I love the concept of “postal peeps”! I imagine little yellow marshmallow chicks wearing tiny letter carrier uniforms! And it’s good that Rene manages to put a positive spin on eventually losing his job thanks to Dennis and Darrell- at least he’ll be left with nothing as a postal employee, not as an Enron employee. But Rene does have a strategy for that rapturous moment when he loses his job in order to “save” the USPS:
Nothing like a cheery “k thanks” before you catch the bus down to your minimum wage job at “Petco (where the pets go)”!
My first theory about @ClerkRene was that the account was a clumsy attempt by someone on Ross’s staff to make Dennis seem more friendly to the people he’s trying so hard to put out of work. But the “Petco” tweet is so over the top- you don’t suppose someone’s trying to make a fool of the Congressman, do you?
Looks like Dennis Ross has a problem with facts. When a commenter on his Facebook page mentioned our article criticizing a Washington Post story for ignoring the $50 billion the USPS has (involuntarily) stashed away for future retiree benefits, Ross responded “The other "trust fund" is just pure fantasy.” But then admitted “Yes, there is over $40 billion already in the fund.” Oh. OK. I guess when you’re a Congressman reality and fantasy don’t mean the same things as they do to the rest of us!
Ross also wrote, without providing any specifics, that “the amount of misinformation coming from postalnewsblog is staggering over the past few months”. Considering the source, we’ll take that as a compliment!
But let’s make one thing clear- unlike the Congressman, we deal in facts, not fantasies. And these are the facts:
Between the “mythical” trust fund with its very real $42.5 billion, and the undisputed $6.9 billion FERS overpayment, the supposedly “insolvent” USPS effectively has almost $50 billion in the bank.
The trust fund payments are the cause of the USPS losses since 2006. Without them, the USPS would have been profitable over that time period. All of the current USPS debt is money it has had to borrow from the Treasury so that it can then loan it back to the Treasury for the “trust fund”. It’s a shell game designed to take “off budget” postal revenues, and apply them to an “on budget” trust fund, artificially lowering the federal budget deficit.
No other company or agency has the same obligation to prefund retiree benefits.
Even if one accepts a need for some level of prefunding, the 2006 law was based on assumptions as to volume and workforce levels that no longer apply, yet no adjustments have been made to the payment levels.
If the USPS had been allowed to run like a business since 2006 (i.e. without prefunding and Congressmen micro-managing its operations), it would be a profitable enterprise facing the recession with ample cash reserves.
Republicans refuse to drop the accounting gimmick that places USPS operations “off budget”, while its retirement funds are “on budget” This allows them to cry “BAILOUT” if the USPS asks for some of its own money to be returned to fund its operations.
Congress created the “crisis”, not the USPS unions or managers, and Congress needs to correct its mistakes before it destroys the US Postal Service.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will vote Oct. 13 on a bill that the APWU has denounced as “a reckless assault on postal services and postal employees.” The bill, H.R. 2309, is sponsored by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL). The committee will Webcast its deliberations, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. The Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy approved the bill on Sept. 21 by a vote of 8-5.
The Legislative and Political Department has asked APWU members whose representatives serve on the committee to contact them and urge them to vote no.
“The bill would destroy the Postal Service as we know it,” President Cliff Guffey said.
The Issa-Ross bill calls for $1 billion worth of cuts in post offices in the first year and $2 billion worth of cuts in mail processing facilities in the second year.
It also would abrogate the Collective Bargaining Agreement by granting authority to a newly-established control board to carry out layoffs, despite any provisions in union contracts that might limit such actions. The bill says that employees who are eligible for retirement must be laid off before employees who are ineligible, and dictates that retirement-eligible employees with the longest service must be separated first.
“This is an outrageous assault on the fundamental principles of unionism – fairness and respect for seniority,” Guffey said.
The Postal Service has announced it wants to reduce the workforce by 220,000, and is seeking authority to lay off as many as 120,000, including tens of thousands of military veterans. H.R. 2309 would authorize the layoffs.
The bill also would empower a newly-created “solvency authority” to unilaterally cut wages and abolish benefits.
“H.R. 2309 fails to address the fundamental cause of the Postal Service’s financial difficulties,” said Legislative and Political Director Myke Reid. The bill does nothing to correct the requirement to pre-fund the healthcare benefits of future retirees, which forces the USPS to fund a 75-year liability in just 10 years, he said. No other government agency or private business is required to make these payments, which cost the Postal Service approximately $5.5 billion annually. The bill also fails to address billions of dollars in USPS overpayments to federal pension accounts, Reid noted.
“We call upon APWU members to step up their opposition to H.R. 2309 and their support for H.R. 1351,” Reid said.
H.R. 1351 would help provide the Postal Service financial stability by allowing the Postal Service to apply the pension overpayments to the pre-funding obligation. The bill, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), has 225 co-sponsors – including 26 Republicans – but Rep. Issa has refused to allow it to come up for a vote.
Lakeland, FL – Congressman Dennis A. Ross (R-FL), Chairman of the Federal Workforce, Postal Service & Labor Policy Subcommittee, today released a copy of a letter sent to GAO, signed by the bipartisan leadership on the issue of postal reform.
Postal unions have consistently claimed the service is “owed” $75 billion because of “overpayments” into CSRS retirement funds. This week’s nationwide protests at Congressional offices by postal employees was intended to underscore this claim. OPM and editorial boards have consistently recognized no overpayment. Republicans in the House remain committed to opposing any taxpayer bailout of the Postal Service and want to determine, once and for all, the extent of any financial issue, if any.
On top of the issue of a bailout, Chairman Ross, along with Full Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, has introduced HR 2309, The Postal Reform Act (www.savingthepostalservice.com) that would address the challenges facing the Postal Service, require market reform and give postal leadership greater flexibility to operate the service as it was intended – like a business.
The letter to GAO was signed by and is as follows –
Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa
Rep. Dennis Ross
Rep. Elijah Cummings
Rep. Stephen Lynch
Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman
Sen. Tom Carper
Sen. Susan Collins
Sen. Scott Brown
September 15, 2011
The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General of the United States
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G St. NW
Washington, DC 20548
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is facing deteriorating financial conditions as mail volumes– the primary source of revenue–continue to decrease at faster rates than projected. USPS has experienced a cumulative net loss of nearly $20 billion over the last 5 fiscal years, including an $8.5 billion loss in 2010; and a reported net loss of $5.7 billion in the first 9 months of fiscal year 2011. By the end of this fiscal year, USPS projects that it will incur a $10 billion loss, experience a substantial cash shortfall, reach its $15 billion borrowing limit, and not be able to make its statutorily mandated $5.5 billion retiree health benefits payment to the federal government.
USPS, several members of the House and Senate, and a variety of stakeholders have proposed a number of operational and restructuring options to address USPS’s dire financial situation, and have also made certain claims and recommendations regarding the financing of its retirement obligations. Among these is the assertion by the USPS Office of Inspector General, the Postal Regulatory Commission, and two outside accounting firms these agencies contracted with that USPS has overfunded its obligations to the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) by as much as $75 billion. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate to give the Postal Service access to the funds it is alleged to have overpaid into CSRS. Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), its Office of Inspector General, and other stakeholders have called the existence of a USPS overpayment into CSRS into question.
Given the substantial amount of funds at issue, the potential impact on the OPM-administered CSRS fund of giving USPS access to the funds some believe it has overpaid, and the need to resolve conflicting information and positions about this issue, we request that GAO: (1) determine if the current methodology employed by OPM for allocating obligations between USPS and the federal government for CSRS is consistent with the law; (2) comment on the actuarial analysis the USPS IG and Postal Regulatory Commission are using in their assertion that OPM should refund the CSRS contributions in question; and (3) comment on (a) the potential impacts that such a refund would have on the CSRS fund and CSRS stakeholders, (b) USPS’s financial outlook, and (c) other impacts you may identify.
We would appreciate a briefing on these issues by the end of September with a report to follow by the end of October. If you have any questions, please contact …
A bill that would destroy the Postal Service as we know it passed a House subcommittee on Sept. 21 by a vote of seven to four, along party lines. Republicans voted in favor of the bill; Democrats voted against it. The bill, H.R. 2309, was co-sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), chairman of the postal subcommittee.
Prior to the vote, Rep. Issa amended the bill, which he first introduced on June 23, to include numerous provisions that are even more controversial than those contained in the original version:
The amended version includes a provision to grant authority to a newly-established control board to carry out layoffs, in spite of any provisions in collective bargaining agreements that might limit them. In addition, it says that employees who are eligible for retirement must be laid off before employees who are ineligible, and dictates that retirement-eligible employees with the longest service must be separated first. The new language also forbids the payment of severance pay to retirement-eligible employees.
The new version of the bill continues provisions from the original that would empower a newly-created “solvency authority” to unilaterally cut wages and abolish benefits.
The amendment doubles – from $1 billion to $2 billion – the value of mail processing facility closures mandated by the bill, and it continues the provision found in the original version which requires $1 billion worth of post office closures. The new version also includes many changes to mail delivery, such as a requirement to reduce “door delivery” by 75 percent within two years.
In addition, the amendment includes several changes that would negatively affect workers who are injured on duty, including one that would cut the monthly compensation of totally disabled employees from 66.66 percent to 50 percent, once they meet the age and service requirements for retirement.
Democrats on the subcommittee argued strenuously against the bill and offered several amendments of their own; all of them were defeated by the Republican majority.
APWU President Cliff Guffey denounced the bill. “This is a brazen attempt to dismantle the United States Postal Service and render it ripe for privatization,” he said. “It is a blatant attack on unionized workers.
“The bill does not address the cause of the Postal Service’s financial crisis. It does nothing to correct the requirement to pre-fund the healthcare benefits of future retirees, which forces the USPS to fund a 75-year liability in a period of just 10 years,” Guffey said. No other government agency or private company is required to make such payments, which cost the USPS approximately $5.5 billion annually. “The bill also fails to address billions of dollars in USPS overpayments to federal pension accounts,” he noted.
“The Postal Service is a critical part of our economy. It is the center of a $1.2 trillion industry that employs 8 million people, including printers, mailers, and other businesses that rely on the Postal Service,” Guffey said.
“The post office is where the flag flies across America, and it is an integral part of our national life. Yet the bill would destroy this great institution – shutting thousands of offices, slashing service, and punishing workers.”
Guffey called on all union members to participate in rallies set for Tuesday, Sept. 27, to Save America’s Postal Service. Events are planned in every congressional district across the country, as part of a campaign by the four postal unions to win support for legislation to avert a collapse of the nation’s mail system.
The APWU is working with the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association to organize the activities. (Please send high-resolution photos of your event to firstname.lastname@example.org.) To find the location of the rally nearest you, visit www.SaveAmericasPostal Service.org.
The unions are urging support for H.R. 1351, which was introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA). The Lynch bill would prevent the financial collapse of the USPS – without closing thousands of post offices, eliminating hundreds of mail processing facilities, delaying mail delivery, laying off 120,000 workers, cutting postal workers’ pay, or ending collective bargaining rights.
H.R. 1351 would allow the Postal Service to apply billions of dollars in pension overpayments to the congressional mandate that requires the USPS to pre-fund the healthcare benefits of future retirees.
“We are fighting for our lives,” Guffey said. “I urge every APWU member to attend a rally, and to ask his or her member of Congress to support H.R. 1351.”
Darrell Issa, the self-appointed “watchdog” of the US Postal Service, today introduces new provisions in his so-called “reform” act that would reverse existing RIF rules, forcing the most senior postal workers to be laid off first. Issa’s bill had already included provisions throwing out collective bargaining rights, saddling the USPS with up to $10 billion in additional debt, and creating two new federal bureaucracies to “oversee” the USPS.
The new provision requires the USPS to RIF all retirement eligible employees prior to laying off any workers not yet eligible for a pension, and to RIF the most senior of them first:
(ii) GENERAL RULE.—A reduction in force under this subsection shall not result in the separation of any non-retirement-eligible employee before a retirement-eligible employee.
(iii) LENGTH OF SERVICE.—In determining the order for the separation of competing retirement-eligible employees, individuals shall be separated in descending order based on length of service.
The law would also prohibit severance payments for such employees, who would also be forbidden from being reemployed by the USPS as long as a non-retirement eligible person was available. The revised RIF pecking order would apply only to bargaining unit employees.
Issa will introduce his amended bill at a meeting of his oversight committee this afternoon. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 1:30 EDT, and will be streamed live.