NNA makes postal reform a legislative priority

Aug 21, 2017

By Tonda F. Rush
Public Policy Director and General Counsel | NNA
WASHINGTON—Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, left Congress on June 30 to become a Fox News commentator. The chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and primary sponsor of the Postal Service Reform Act of 2017 had drawn headlines for suggesting a $2,500 housing allowance for members of Congress, whose annual salary is $174,000. Chaffetz was known as one of several representatives who slept on the couches in their offices rather than rent an apartment.
At Fox, he will earn enough to afford housing, according to the network.
He will also be spared the frustration of trying to get his bill, HR 867, to the House floor. With his departure, the momentum to pass the bill before the Postal Regulatory Commission would have the opportunity to announce major price increases has slowed to a near stop. As lead sponsor, it was up to Chaffetz to clear the bill past its next checkpoint: approval by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Ways and Means Chair Rep. Kevin Brady, R-TX, has had the bill on his desk since March and has shown little interest in moving it.
So, the National Newspaper Association and the Texas Press Association took over where Chaffetz left off. In June, a group of publishers hosted a meeting with Brady at The Woodlands office of the Hearst Corporation’s Conroe Courier to ask Brady for his help.
The bill provides $30 billion in financial relief for the U.S. Postal Service over the next 10 years by implementing a smaller rate increase than publishers expect from the PRC and by requiring some 77,000 postal retirees who do not draw Medicare Part A and Part B benefits to use that fund instead of a separate federal Retiree Health Benefits Fund. These retirees avoid the Part B premiums by not using Medicare, even though the Medicare tax has been paid for them. By shifting them to the Medicare plan, USPS erases a significant amount of unpaid debt from its balance sheet and frees up its ability to continue development of package delivery and, mailers hope, to avoid further cutbacks in mail service for all other mail.
NNA President Matt Paxton, publisher of The News-Gazette, Lexington, VA, who joined Texas publishers Andy Dubois, publisher of Houston Community Newspapers; Randy Keck, NNA Texas state chair, and others to discuss the bill with Brady.
“His concern is the impact upon the Medicare fund,” Paxton said. “Although he understands that Texas publishers need timely mail delivery to reach readers, I am not sure he realized how urgent action on this bill is if we are going to avoid much higher rates and further service cuts. He told us his intention was to deal with postal after the other two priorities of his committee, which are health care and tax reform. But we urged him to look at HR 867, which doesn’t require any action except his agreement not to hold it up any further. I can’t say we got to a ‘yes’ with him, but it was a very good discussion and he did leave us with a promise to help us connect with Chaffetz’s successor, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-SC, so we could possibly work out a resolution of Brady’s concerns,” Paxton said. “Getting postal bills through the labyrinths of Congress is never easy, but we must persist. We were fortunate to have good support from the Texas Press Association and several of its publishers, who share our concern about the consequences if this bill does not pass.”
NNA has placed HR 867 at the top of its legislative priority list. USPS has already requested that the PRC eliminate the annual inflationary cap on postage rates and has testified that without the bill, it expects to run out of operating cash.