Lieberman tells House to act as Post Office defaults

Washington — The U.S. Postal Service is expected to default late Wednesday, but Congress isn’t likely to move on legislation that would save it.

Congress’s inaction was rebuked by Sen.  Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., the author of a Senate bill that would give the postal service a new lease on life.

“The postmaster general is running out of options, and, unless Congress acts, draconian cuts are a certainty in the future,” Lieberman said.

Last week, the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general warned Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe that his agency is in deeper financial trouble than he had thought.

Not only will the postal service default — for the first time — on a $5.5 billion payment to its Retiree Health Benefits Fund, it will not be able to make another $5.6 billion payment due in September, the inspector general said.

Donohoe said the default of the payment to a fund for future postal retirees won’t affect service, payroll or pension payments to current retirees.

But the postal service hemorrhages $25 million every day and is expected to lose more than $14 billion this year.

To try to return to solvency, Donohoe wants to reduce operating hours or close more than 13,000 post offices and half of its processing centers. He also wants more flexibility in setting prices and to eliminate Saturday delivery and next-day delivery for first-class mail.

In Connecticut, the postal service wants to close two processing centers, one in Stamford and one in Wallingford, with some of their work shifted to a center in Hartford. The postal service also wants to close 15 small post offices in the state.

Lieberman’s bill would delay for two years post office closures and the end of Saturday delivery. It would also give the post office relief from having to prepay $11 billion to its pension fund.

The Republican-controlled House has a much tougher bill that would allow the immediate shutdown of postal facilities and curbs on service. But House leaders have not brought it to the floor because Republicans representing rural districts are concerned about post office closures.

“It is long past time for the House to take up its own postal legislation so that we can get the postal service back on solid financial footing before essential services are lost for millions of people,” Lieberman said.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, who represents workers at the Wallingford plant, on Wednesday derided House Republicans who “have managed 30-odd votes on repealing health care reform and dozens more protecting the interests of Big Oil and Wall Street, yet they have not found time to ease the pressure on USPS.”