When Congress convenes next week, the matter at hand will be more urgent than the usual fare of bills that will never pass: The Senate will consider when and where people will get their mail given the Postal Service's state of distress.
For many, especially the elderly and those in rural areas, that is a pressing question with the Postal Service nearing the end of a moratorium next month on closing post offices and processing facilities around the country, as many as 167 in Missouri alone. Three post offices in St. Louis neighborhoods are threatened: in Hamilton Heights, in JeffVanderLou; and downtown at the Jefferson Memorial.
The Senate spent much of this week discussing changes and stop-gap initiatives for the struggling Postal Service, including protecting Saturday delivery and offering $11 billion in buyouts to hundreds of thousands of employees.
The obstacle to overcome may well be the filibuster, the archaic rule that could require 60 votes for the Senate to get something done.
"Those of you who are holding up the bill because you don't like it may not like what the result of having no bill is," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned Thursday evening.
Senate leaders have narrowed down a list of proposed amendments to legislation that would reshape the Postal Service amid concerns that the bill could become hopelessly bogged down, a familiar pattern in Congress. The amendments include various proposals that would delay post office closings and delay the move to five-day delivery.
Among nearly 40 amendments scheduled to be taken up next week are separate proposals by Missouri Sens. Claire McCaskill (D) and Roy Blunt (R).
Blunt and Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, want to give communities facing closure or consolidation a voice in what transpires. Under their relatively modest amendment, a citizen advocate -- unpaid -- would represent a town or neighborhood in closure proceedings.
Blunt told reporters this week he understands that post offices often are "the last anchor that really creates a sense of community." He said he will listen to the many amendments but might be averse to a plan "to kick the can two years down the road."
McCaskill's proposal is far-reaching. It would prohibit the Postal Service from closing rural post offices for two years. Even then, they could be shuttered only if the Postal Service met strict criteria: communities would not suffer economic losses; seniors who pick up medicine at their local post office would have the same or similar service; and the next nearest post office could be no farther away than ten miles by car.
In a floor speech this week, McCaskill recalled trips to the post office as a girl growing up in Lebanon, Mo.
"I remember even how it smelled. I remember how it looked. I remember what happened there, and my memory was that it was a gathering place, she said.
She said that her amendment, which faces an uncertain future "would save the sense of community in dozens and dozens of rural towns in Missouri ... I know we've got a problem here. But when you look at the numbers, closing rural post offices doesn't help. It's less than one percent of the budget."
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