Mikulski pressures Harris, Bartlett on postal overhaul

Updated with comments from Harris and Bartlett.

In a rare intra-delegation, across-the-aisle nudge, Sen.Barbara A. Mikulskion Tuesday called on the state's two Republican lawmakers in Washington to support a Senate version of an overhaul of theU.S. Postal Servicethat would save a pair of mail sorting facilities that just happen to be located in the lawmakers' districts.


The move instantly put Republican Reps. Andy Harris and Roscoe Bartlett on defense, forcing them to either support the bipartisan Senate version of the postal legislation -- which is not popular with Republican House leaders -- or acknowledge that the Postal Service must be allowed to trim costs and close plants, even if the cuts are made in their own districts.

In separate letters to Harris and Bartlett, Mikulski argued that the two House lawmakers should "work with the leadership in your chamber to quickly pass the Senate's bill and send it to President Obama for his signature."

In statements, Harris and Bartlett said they support the next-day delivery standard that would keep the Easton and Cumberland plants open, but not the Senate bill itself.

At issue for Maryland are two mail sorting centers that were expected to be closed as part of the Postal Service's effort to reduce costs -- one on the Eastern Shore in Easton, represented by Harris, and the other in Cumberland, which is represented by Bartlett. Neither lawmaker has been particularly vocal on the possibility of those plants closing.

Mikulski and Sen. Ben Cardin, both Democrats, were among several senators who successfully pushed the Postal Service to reconsider closing the facilities. In a compromise struck hours before the Senate voted on its overhaul bill last Tuesday, the Postal Service agreed to maintain next-day delivery of first class mail in nearby zip codes. That change, Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe has said, would require the agency to keep open the Easton and Cumberland centers.

So if the next-day delivery standard is approved by Congress, the centers -- and the hundreds of jobs that come with them -- will remain open. If it doesn't, it's possible they would close later this month unless some other agreement is reached.

Neither Harris nor Bartlett were immediately available to comment on Mikulski's letter.

"The overall bill passed by the Senate continues the fiscal irresponsibility of a Senate that has failed to pass a budget for over three years," Harris said in a statement. "The Senate bill is a $33 billion bailout that fails to address the annual hemorrhaging of billions of dollars in Postal Service deficits that will have to be eventually paid back by current and future hard-working taxpayers."

Bartlett offered a nearly identical argument.

"Overall the Senate bill is an irresponsible $33 billion bailout that fails to stem the Post Office's red ink," he said in a statement. "The post office is incurring daily deficits of $25 million on top of its debt of more than $13 billion. Postal customers and taxpayers will eventually have to pay back all of that money for the post office to become self-supporting."