Senators hopeful post office rescue bill will advance

Havre Daily News

by Tim Leeds

Montana’s U. S. senators say they are not happy with the form of a bill now in the Senate to reform the U. S. Postal Service and possibly prevent the closure of 3,700 post offices including 85 in Montana.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., held a press conference by telephone Thursday in advance of an expected vote to bring the reform bill, on which he worked in the Government Affairs Committee on which he serves, to the floor for debate and possible amendments.

“I will tell you, when this bill came out of committee a few months ago, I opposed that original version, ” he said. “We still have work to be done on this bill. I think the Senate can get it done so that it does work not only for urban America but also rural America. ”

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who brought Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to a public meeting in Ingomar, said this morning that he opposed bringing the bill to the floor until he could be certain it could be amended. Last night the Senate leadership agreed that amendments to the bill would be considered.

“I brought the postmaster general to Montana last week to show him firsthand that we can’t solve the Postal Service’s fiscal woes on the backs of rural Montanans, ” Baucus said. “Closing our post offices could devastate rural jobs and communities, and wouldn’t make a dent in the Postal Service’s attempt to get its finances in line.

“I’ll keep working for a real solution that addresses the Postal Service’s fiscal problems without hurting rural delivery standards and impeding the rights of rural voters who submit ballots by mail, ” he added.

Baucus also has sponsored bills of his own that would prevent closure of any post office if another is not within 10 miles, and that would provide some $7 billion to the Postal Service to keep it operating this year.

His office provided information that, although the Postal Service says that 90 percent of the post offices it proposes closing are within 10 miles of another post office, in Montana the opposite is true. Ninety percent of the post offices that would be closed are more than 10 miles from another.

Baucus and Tester both support several amendments to the bill now in the Senate they say would guarantee protecting rural America, which includes most of Montana.

One would put a two-year moratorium on closing post offices and establish criteria for closures.

Those criteria would include that the next nearest post office is within 10 miles, that the closure would not hurt service for senior citizens or people with disabilities, that the economic loss to businesses in the community will not be greater than the savings to the Postal Service, and that the community must have access to broadband Internet service.

Another is that the closures must be studied to ensure they do not impact the ability of people to get mail-in ballots back in time during an election.

Tester said another of his main changes, which Baucus also said he supports, would be to ensure that closures do not hurt people’s access to basic services, such as buying stamps or picking up their mail.

Tester said he hopes that, with his visit to the Ingomar post office, Donahoe gained some new perspective on the decision to close rural post offices, but that it would have been better if he had visited before making his recommendations.

“I really wish what the postmaster general would have done was to go out to those rural areas to see what those impacts were before he made the proposal to shut down some 3,800 rural post offices in this country — which, by the way, would only save one-half of one percent of the annual expenses, ” he said. “I think that is the wrong approach.”

Tester said the issue is too important for rural Montana, rural America and the country overall for politicians to be playing games. He said he has heard 78 amendments have been proposed, some of which deal directly with the Postal Service, but many of which do not.

“Such is life in the U. S. Senate,” he added, saying he hopes the amendments, as they get pruned down to a manageable number, all deal directly with the issue.

“This is … a very, very, very important issue for Montana. I think it is a very important issue for all of this country,” he said. “It’s nothing to be playing politics with, and, hopefully, we can get away from that as these amendments are considered.”