Congress won't rescue postal service as it defaults on health care benefits

Congress is sitting idly by Wednesday as the U.S. Postal Service prepares to default on $5.5 billion in retiree health care payments.

The postal service confirmed in a statement Monday that it would default on its payment to the U.S. Treasury due at midnight on Wednesday. It is also prepared to default on a $5.6 billion tab due Sept. 30 to pre-pay retiree health benefits "absent legislation enacted by Congress."

The postal service stressed that the defaults would "have no material effect on the operations of the Postal Service," which would continue to be fully funded, as would services.

But this first-ever default marks the decline of the postal service, illuminating just how precarious its financial position remains without congressional intervention. Some lawmakers believe that such postal poverty threatens Congress' reputation as well as the future of the mail service and the nation's economic health.

"The country's looking for the Congress to get things done, the president to get things done, especially get things done that actually saves jobs and creates jobs. And there's some 7 or 8 million jobs that currently depend on the postal service," Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) Congress' lead Democratic voice on postal reform, told Yahoo News Wednesday. The default, Carper argued, "simply undermines confidence in those who use the post office services, especially the larger mailers," potentially hurting business and much-needed holiday sales.

The postal service has reported multi-billion dollar losses in part due to the current economic climate and a decrease in mail. Additionally, the service is required by law to pre-pay billions in health care benefits every year into a retiree health benefit fund. The postal service wants Congress to help lower this pre-fund burden and help them via other avenues, but Congress doesn't appear to be acting anytime soon.

In April, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill, cosponsored by Carper, to help save the postal service by advocating for cost-cutting measures including restructuring the pre-fund. At the time, House Republicans widely panned the bill, labeling it a $33 billion bailout; they argued it delayed but failed to solve the postal service's financial woes. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight, co-sponsored with Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) a bill in the works, but it has yet to be brought to the House floor.

The postal service and other interested parties as well as Republicans criticized the Senate bill once it passed. But Carper said Wednesday the House is holding back opportunities to move forward and make adjustments.

"The House simply has to do what they've been saying they're going to do all along and that's to pass a bill so that we can then go to conference, work out our differences, come up with a compromise between the Senate bill and the House bill," Carper said, adding "our bill's not perfect... but until we have the House act, we can't come up with that final compromise."

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