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August 30, 2014

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politics:

Las Vegas, and rural Nevada, could be helped by postal bill

WASHINGTON — The postal reform bill is hardly halfway done, but the first round of amendments already appear to be promising some relief to Nevada’s letter carriers and resort workers.

Rural post offices will remain open at least through Election Day, thanks to an amendment that issued a moratorium on closing far-flung post offices in states where people often mail in their ballots. And rural postmasters will have more flexibility in setting hours of operation, to keep costs low.

Postal workers won’t be forced into retirement once they are age-eligible, and neither will they lose their delivery monopoly over mailboxes, allowances that will let the Postal Service retain its workforce and its unique market access. But the Postal Service will still be in danger of losing its Saturday delivery in two years’ time.

Resort workers — well they didn’t receive any direct indulgences from the Senate in the context of a postal reform bill. But the Senate did consider an amendment to the legislation to limit conference spending in the wake of the General Services Administration scandal, and its smooth passage has the Senate majority leader thinking the worst of the Las Vegas-bashing that has resulted from it is over.

“I have no problem with the rules that Coburn is suggesting,” Sen. Harry Reid said Tuesday, referring to Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the author of the Senate amendment that passed by voice vote without any objections. “While they may not be perfect, I think they’re good.”

Coburn introduced an amendment to reduce and cap spending on federal conventions, as well as require that convention planners give a detailed justification for each location in which they choose to hold a federal convention in the future. It's the Congress' first legislative answer to try to clean up the GSA in the wake of a convention spending scandal in which agency officials spent $823,000 wining and dining over 300 employees at the M Resort.

Las Vegas officials believe Coburn's requirements will actually make Sin City more competitive as a host city for federal government conventions, as the per diem price of convening in Las Vegas is cheaper than the average price of most top-25 destinations.

“Las Vegas is the place where people love to go, it’s inexpensive and there are a lot of things there,” Reid said. “This is not a Las Vegas issue, it’s an issue dealing with the federal government ... all these conferences should accomplish a purpose and should not waste money.”

The amendments that passed will not advance unless the postal reform bill does in its entirety — and right now, that is unresolved. The House has yet to consider a postal bill at all, and is resisting some of the most central changes of the Senate bill, which seeks to correct the bulk of the Postal Service’s debt by reconfiguring retiree pension and health care payments.

Congress does have a deadline though: Unless lawmakers can come to an agreement by May 15, the postmaster general takes over cost-cutting measures.

In light of that, lawmakers are trying to pick up the pace.

The Senate worked its way through 16 of the 39 amendments on offer to advance with the postal reform bill Tuesday; they are expected to finish the list Wednesday.

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