Sunday, April 29, 2012

Congress Votes for Postal Shutdown

Threatening to shut down the government is old hat. Now Congress is working on plans that would shut down the U.S. Postal Service.

A plan passed by the Senate early last week is being presented as a plan to rescue the postal system, but when you look at the details, its actual effect would be the opposite. By limiting cost-cutting and postponing some measures for years, the Senate bill would virtually ensure that the USPS would no longer be able to pay its workers at some point next year. Among other burdens the Senate bill would load onto an already barely-solvent system is the continuation of Saturday mail deliveries until about 2015. Realistically, Saturday mail will go away this year, and we should be talking about taking away Monday and Thursday too.

But if the Senate bill would push the postal service into a near-term crisis, the House seems more interested in dismantling it piece by piece. To be fair, the House has not yet been able to come to agreement on any specific steps. However, the draft House bill being considered would hack away at the postal service relentlessly. It would effectively eliminate the postal unions immediately and the board of directors in 2014. Then, a new panel would be appointed with the authority to hack away at the system until there is nothing left. The one saving grace about the House bill is that it may never go anywhere. The House leadership says the mail is not a legislative priority, and scoffs at a May 15 deadline that is the result of previous Congressional action.

It is a surprising degree of hostility from Congress when you consider that members of Congress can send as much official mail as they wish without having to pay for it out of their office budgets. But then, the sanguine attitude of postal executives, who have promised all along that the postal system will keep running in spite of the various financial trends that suggest otherwise, is not helping either. Realistically, the May 15 deadline will come and go before Congress does anything, and then the USPS can start acting on its own to cut costs. Considering that the House and Senate bills would push the USPS into a crisis faster, the absence of Congressional action may actually give the USPS the best chance to survive in the near term.