U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is in the political doghouse of Wisconsin's largest industry.
At issue are Johnson's tea party rhetoric and committee votes on postal-reform legislation. Postal votes are a vital issue for the multi-faceted mailing industry which accounts for more than $26 billion in annual economic activity and employs more than 180,000 Wisconsin residents.
Industry executives say ever-increasing mail rates will become a disincentive that will lead to companies finding other ways to communicate with their customers. The industry had supported an amendment advanced by Johnson’s Democratic counterpart, Tammy Baldwin, that would have retained the existing power of the Postal Regulatory Commission and kept the latest increase as a "temporary" measure.
Johnson criticized the Baldwin amendment at a session of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee saying: "We cannot continue down this path of the Postal System potentially being on the hook or making the American taxpayer being on the hook for tens of millions of dollars over the next 10 years if we do nothing."
Wisconsin's mailing and publishing industry quickly gave Johnson a sharp rebuke. It issued a public letter signed by top paper and mailing industry executives and officials at 52 newspapers. It noted the mailing industry provides about 90 percent of Postal Service revenue.
"We are confused by your taxpayer statement, considering the fact the Postal Service is funded solely by revenue from postage, most of it paid by mailing customers like us. No taxpayer dollars are used to fund the postal service," the industry letter said.
"The real threat to the American taxpayer is allowing the Postal Service to price mailing out of the market, causing steep declines in mail volume that will further destabilize the Postal Service financially and lead to a taxpayer bailout," the industry letter continued.
"Postal reform is critical, but only if it accomplishes the goal of encouraging customers to use the Postal Service which in turn will keep business costs reasonable and protect Wisconsin jobs," the letter said as the committee prepared for a decision.
Baldwin's plan never got a chance. The committee chair offered a plan that advanced to the floor of the U.S. Senate that severely limits the power of the Postal Regulatory Commission. Joel Quadracci, chief executive of the printing-industry giant QuadGraphics, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the industry was "disappointed" in the committee's actions.
''It will result in reduced mail volumes and further acerbate the Postal Service's financial trouble," Quadracci said.