The United States Postal Service is not broke.
It does not need to be downsized. Post offices do not need to be closed. Sorting centers do not need to be shuttered. Saturday service does not need to be scrapped. And hundreds of thousands of jobs in rural regions and urban neighborhoods do not need to be cut in a time of economic instability.
Yet, this week, the US Senate is debating about whether to advance a scheme that would begin a process of downsizing that—while not so immediately draconian as the plan advanced by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrel Issa (R-CA)—accepts the notion that the postal service’s future is one of closures and cuts. Ultimately, that downsizing points the postal in a direction where privatization could be inevitable.
But that does not have to be the case.
National Association of Letter Carriers president Fredric Rolando is right when he says: “Nothing is inevitable about the so-called decline of the U.S. Postal Service."
What is real, however, is the threat.
Republican leaders in Congress have made proposals for dismembering the US Postal Service by cutting the number of delivery days, shuttering processing centers so that it will take longer for letters to arrive, closing thousands of rural and inner-city post offices and taking additional steps that would dramatically downsize one of the few national programs ordained by the original draft of the US Constitution. That scheme won’t be implemented by this Congress. But a half-step in that direction could be made.
Supposedly “centrist” US Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) have developed a series of proposals they describe as a “bipartisan consensus” for a death by slower cuts.
Their “21st Century Postal Service Act,” the latest variation on a supposed compromise now being weighed by the Senate, would still move the postal service toward the closing of hundreds of mail processing centers, the shuttering of thousands of post offices, delays in mail delivery and a pressuring of consumers toward more expensive private-sector services. It is, says National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando, “a classic case of ‘killing the Post-Office in order to save it.’ ”
Republicans, and those Democrats who side with them on this issue, hold that radical surgery is necessary because the postal service is in financial crisis.
There’s only one problem with this diagnosis.
The postal service is not broke.
At the behest of the Republican-controlled Congress of the Bush-Cheney era, the USPS has been forced since 2006 to pre-fund future retiree health benefits. As the American Postal Workers Union notes, “This mandate is the primary cause of the agency’s financial crisis. No other government agency or private company bears this burden, which costs the USPS approximately $5.5 billion annually.”