The House of Representatives passed H.R. 22, the United States Postal Service Financial Relief Act of 2009, on September 15. The bill would reduce the Postal Service's FY 2009 health benefit liability payment from $5.4 billion to $1.4 billion. That was good news for the Postal Service and the mailing community.

Today the House of Representatives is expected to pass the Fiscal Year 2010 Continuing Resolution which includes the language of H.R. 22. The CR, as it's known, has to be enacted in order to keep government functioning on October 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. A continuing resolution is legislation in the form of a joint resolution by Congress that provides budget authority for federal agencies and programs to continue in operation until the regular appropriation bills are enacted.

The Senate will take up the continuing resolution before October 1 and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) may object to the inclusion of the H.R. 22 language in the bill. It's unclear whether such an objection would prevail.

Some key Senators, including Senator Coburn, think that the "band-aid" approach of H.R. 22 financial relief is unacceptable. They would prefer to consider S. 1507 as reported out of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. It provides restructuring of the Postal Service's health benefit liability payment stream; an increase in the Postal Service's yearly borrowing limit; requires the arbitrator to consider the financial condition of the Postal Service; prohibits the Postal Service for paying bonuses if it had a year-end net loss in the year for which the bonus is awarded; and requires the GAO to expedite a study on the Postal Service's options and strategies for long-term structural and operational reforms.

There clearly is more meat to the bone in S. 1507, making it more difficult to pass. The postal unions are strongly opposed to the provision that would require the arbitrator to consider the financial condition of the Postal Service. The Postal Service and mailers are generally supportive of the provision and some Senators think it's important to pass before the Postal Service attempts to negotiate new labor contracts in 2010 and 2011.

The Associated Press has reported that "A House-Senate panel on Thursday approved legislation to keep the government from closing down when the new budget year starts next week and employed a $4 billion bookkeeping maneuver to keep the financially troubled Postal Service afloat. The financially struggling Postal Service would be allowed to cover a budget shortfall by reducing its annual payment to a health care fund for retirees by $4 billion. Under current law, the Postal Service is required to transfer $5.4 billion to the Retiree Health Benefits Fund by Sept. 30, but Postal officials say they don't have enough money to make the payment."