By MARK MILLER
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a postal reform bill Wednesday that would prevent the U.S. Postal Service from closing mail processing facilities in Easton and Cumberland, a move that came after lobbying by Maryland’s two senators.
Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin joined the 62 senators voting in favor of the 21st Century Postal Service Act, but their support was not assured until Tuesday, when language to protect the Eastern Shore Processing and Distribution Facility in Easton and the Customer Service Mail Processing Center in Cumberland from proposed closure was added to the bill.
“We wanted to make sure that processing centers were preserved in important parts of our country,” Cardin said.
The USPS was considering the Easton center for consolidation with another facility in Wilmington, Del., and had slated the sorting facility in Cumberland for consolidation with a center in Johnstown, Pa.
However, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe relented Tuesday, sending the quartet of legislators who have taken the lead on postal reform — Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Tom Carper, D-Del.; and Scott Brown, R-Mass. — a letter listing the Easton and Cumberland facilities, along with five others in Maryland, among those with “Potential to Remain Open” under the new postal standards the bill would introduce.
The Senate bill contains a provision to prevent the USPS from reducing service between communities with the first three digits of their ZIP codes in common. That language was not originally in the bill, but it was added in a compromise after 26 Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., sent a letter to Lieberman, Collins, Carper and Brown in February insisting on significant changes. Mikulski and Cardin were signers.
“With the modified service standards that we adopted, Easton would likely be among the 325 postal facilities that would remain open for the foreseeable future,” Carper said. The bill requires the USPS to preserve 100 to 125 mail distribution centers that it had identified as subject to closure, he noted.
Mikulski and Cardin introduced multiple amendments to stop the Postal Service from closing or consolidating the Easton facility, but Cardin said they withdrew them because the new language rendered them unnecessary.
“We didn’t need to offer those amendments because of the agreement and the assurance of the postmaster general,” Cardin said.
“Today’s bipartisan action by the Senate to reform the postal service is a great victory for Maryland communities that rely on the post office and good news for Maryland jobs,” Mikulski said in a statement after the bill’s passage.
Cardin praised the work that the senators did to preserve reliable mail delivery in Maryland.
“You don’t improve the outlook for the Postal Service by reducing their service,” said Cardin. Closing the Easton facility, he added, “would have doubled delivery time” for much of the Eastern Shore’s mail.
The House of Representatives is also considering a postal reform bill, but Lieberman acknowledged in a news conference that it bears little resemblance to the Senate bill. House and Senate negotiators are expected to meet to try to reconcile the two bills, but there is no guarantee they will produce a compromise bill before the May 15 deadline elapses.
The Senate also adopted a resolution introduced by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., calling on the USPS to defer any postal facility closures at least through the end of 2012, which would give the House and Senate more time to reach an agreement. However, the resolution is not binding, and Lieberman said Donahoe has not yet agreed to hold off on the closures.
“I hope that (Donahoe) delays and gives the House more time to act,” said Lieberman. “And frankly, I hope it puts some pressure on the House to act.”
Carper, one of the Senate’s leading USPS watchdogs, agreed with Lieberman’s assessment. But he warned that if the House delayed the bill to July or even until after the election, there would be dire consequences for the USPS.
“Every day we delay … the Postal Service loses $23 million,” Carper said. Any further delays, he added, would be “irresponsible.”