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Senate Gears Up for Postal Vote-a-Rama

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Efforts to downsize the U.S. Postal Service will face a series of hurdles today when the Senate votes on up to 39 amendments to the chamber’s postal reform bill, including a proposal to limit spending on government conferences in the wake of the recent General Services Administration scandal.

“I hope once we work through the amendments ... we will see a strong bipartisan vote to modernize the Postal Service and save this important institution from insolvency,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, adding that he expects the measure to pass.

The USPS, with about 570,000 employees, is the second largest civilian employer after Walmart. But with the increase in paperless communication and a commensurate decline in mail volume, the agency projects a $14.1 billion net loss for fiscal 2012.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who is a sponsor of the bill, said he does not expect to hold recorded votes on all amendments, but voting could still take up most of the day.

“We expect that probably more than half of [the amendments] will be negotiated to agreements, modified [or] accepted, but there still will be a significant amount of roll call votes,” Lieberman said on the Senate floor.

One amendment that is on track to be cleared, possibly by voice vote, is a proposal from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that would limit government conference spending, which could save more than $65 million a year, according to Coburn’s office.

The amendment comes after the General Services Administration was found to have spent more than $800,000 on a now-infamous conference in Las Vegas. The scandal has triggered a raft of Congressional investigations, and Senators see the amendment as an opportunity to signal their disdain for the GSA’s overspending.

The Coburn amendment would reduce the amount an agency may spend on conferences to 80 percent of the amount spent in 2010 and cap the amount that may be spent on a single conference at $500,000, unless the agency is the primary sponsor.

The amendment would also allow non-federal foundations to provide financial support for a conference, but would require a listing of such sponsors and a certification that there is no conflict of interest resulting from support received from each. It would prohibit sponsoring more than one conference per year per organization.

The Coburn proposal would further limit to 50 the number of employees from a single agency traveling to an international conference.

Lieberman said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that it is “a very good amendment” but that he wants to “tweak parts of it.”

Along with the Coburn amendment, the Senate will also vote on a substitute amendment offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The bill would replace the Senate measure with the House version of the reform bill. The House bill would set up a board to oversee the USPS and expedite measures to cut costs.

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