Understanding Postal: What Will Postal Reform Mean to Catalogers?
Aggressive lobbying sometimes bears fruit, sometimes gets you nowhere and sometimes it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Thanks to our industry's heavy lobbying, the Committee took heed of Baldwin's amendment. Some debating took place among Committee members, but in the end the amendment was watered down and passed. Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who as chairman and ranking member, respectively, effectively trumped Baldwin and retained some of their damaging provisions. In brief, they adjusted Section 301 as follows:
- still bakes in exigency permanently as a rate base, with no going back to pre-exigency rate levels (currently it's a two-year surcharge then gone, so this is clearly worse);
- reverts to CPI (eliminates Carper/Coburn's previous desire for CPI+1 percent) and CPI+2 percent by class, but only to 2017 when the CPI rate cap is due to be reviewed;
- in 2017, gives the PRC the power to veto any new rate- setting process that gets written by the USPS (Carper/Coburn had previously sought to com pletely strip the PRC of its regulating powers); and
- removes the PRC from prior review of rates — all review is after the fact and only if someone (e.g., a mailer) undertakes an expensive "complaint" case.
The bottom line is that the Carper/Coburn provisions weaken the PRC to the point of effectively leaving the Postal Service as an unregulated government monopoly.
This bill isn't something the mailing industry can support in its present form. We'll try to get a better "manager's amendment" or amend the bill on the Senate floor. Failing any of this, we'll look to get the bill killed altogether, which is sad considering how hard we've worked with both Houses to get meaningful reform passed.
At press time, it was unclear when the full Senate would vote on this bill. As a result of this unfortunate outcome, it's become apparent that we're going to have to do a lot more heavy lifting by mobilizing the catalog industry. The fact remains that mailers are generally not engaged, preferring to let the few do the work of the many … and it's simply not working.
The New Exigency Challenge
The 4.3 percent exigent postage increase the PRC approved late last year (and implemented along with the annual increase on Jan. 26) isn't a dead issue. ACMA and others filed an intent to appeal the exigency matter before the U.S. Court of Appeals. It could be months before we learn of an outcome, but we felt it was worth the fight. That said, depending on what kind of bill ultimately gets passed, the resulting law could pre-empt judicial review of the exigent rate hike.
The catalog industry hasn't historically been a loud force in Washington. We've made some recent inroads, but we need broader participation from all mailers if we're to keep the pressure on; otherwise, there's the distinct possibility we'll end up with a Postal Service that could become too expensive a vehicle for the future distribution of catalogs.
Paul Miller is vice president and deputy director of the American Catalog Mailers Association. Paul previously served as Retail Online Integration's (and Catalog Success’) editor-in-chief from 2006-2009. Paul can be reached at email@example.com.