WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - The United States Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to change the structure of the U.S. Postal Service.
With a vote of 62-37, the chamber barely edged past the 60 votes necessary to make the changes. The measure was debated for two days and is not final, still needing approval by the GOP-controlled House for final passage.
As part of the vote, the Senate decided to limit the seven post offices on Capitol Hill to just two - one in the House and one in the Senate.
Republicans had argued for changes in reaction to the Postal Service's debt - such as by closing offices, ending delivery on some days of the week or curtailing union rights for postal employees.
But Democrats had argued against any changes that compromised six-day-per-week delivery, the loss of any unionized Postal Service jobs, or any closings of rural post offices.
'It's not fair, it's not realistic, to say the Postal Service is dead and to bury it,' said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), an independent who caucuses with Democrats and managed the Democratic side of the debate. 'I want to change the Postal Service, but not to bury it.'
Lieberman acknowledged that the Postal Service has lost $13 billion in the last few years, and that there would be 100,000 fewer employees under a substitute proposal he made with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. By 2016, Lieberman said the bill will save $19 billion per year.
Among the unsuccessful Republican counter-arguements was a proposal by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, which would have sharply curtailed mail delivery services. Democrats argued that McCain's proposal had no chance of Senate passage or approval by President Obama, and that therefore nothing would be done.
At issue was a trend that has both lightened postal workers' burden but also caused a financial crisis: Although the U.S. Postal Service handles 554 million pieces of mail per day - half of the world's total - that volume has dropped by 21 percent over the past five years due to an explosion in e-mail usage and online bill payments.
The lower volume means lower revenues at a time when the agency is already stressed by rising operating costs such as gas prices.
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