WASHINGTON Aug 2 The cash-strapped U.S. Postal
Service could tap a rich new revenue stream if Congress adopts
the idea of two senators who want to allow it to ship alcohol, a
business reserved for more than a century for its private
The two Republican and Democratic senators late on Thursday
introduced legislation to change a 1909 law that prohibits the
Postal Service from shipping alcoholic beverages. The ban
started a decade before prohibition-era laws made producing,
selling and transporting alcohol illegal across the country.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
Chairman Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, and the panel's senior
Republican, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, jointly sponsored the
legislation, whose main purpose is to help the Postal Service
tame its runaway finances.
"If it were to shut down, the impact on our economy would be
devastating," Carper said. "With the right tools and quick
action from Congress, the Postal Service can reform, right-size
Supporters of Postal Service reform argue that the
238-year-old mail carrier is stuck in an outdated business
model, whose problems include private competitors United Parcel
Service Inc and FedEx Corp. The mail-carrier
lost nearly $16 billion last year and without action, some
expect it to run out of money by October.
The Postal Service estimates alcohol shipments could bring
in up to $50 million annually, a spokesman said.
Coburn called the proposal "a rough draft" and hoped it
would be part of a solution that "will protect taxpayers and
ensure the Postal Service can remain economically viable while
providing vital services for the American people."
The senators hope to hold hearings on the Postal bill after
Congress returns in September from a month-long recess, but with
intense budget and debt ceiling discussions expected in the
fall, it is unclear what attention the Postal Service will get.
Much of the Postal Service's financial troubles stem from a
2006 congressional mandate to prefund up to 75 years of its
future retirees' healthcare over 10 years. Mail revenues have
also dwindled as more Americans prefer to use Internet and email
Carper and Coburn's bill includes other provisions such as
replacing the current prefunding requirement with a new plan
spread over 40 years.
The agency already has defaulted on two payments to that
health fund and expects to default on its next payment of $5.6
billion due at the end of September.
The House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a
California Republican who has pushed for Postal Reform, said he
will work with the two senators. He introduced a bill last month
that would ease the healthcare prefund payments, cut Saturday
delivery of first class mail and completely eliminate
The Postal Service said it is evaluating whether both the
Senate and House bills would enable it to save the $20 billion
by 2017 it needs to prevent a taxpayer bailout.