Representative Darrell Issa. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
It's been a truly bizarre and painful experience watching the budget negotiations between Congress and the US Postal Service. The USPS has consistently presented lifesaving ideas to an apathetic Congress that seems utterly unconcerned with saving a federal service that caters primarily to the economically disadvantaged and employs over 574,000 union members.
In 2012, the postal service lost $16 billion, largely due to the 2006 Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) which mandates that the Postal Service fully fund retiree health benefits for future retirees. This is the only time Congress has demanded universal health care coverage.
Two years ago, I wrote an article for Truthout in which I spoke with Chuck Zlatkin, political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union. He said the following about USPS's strange future-funding of retirees:
It's almost hard to comprehend what they're talking about, but basically they said that the Postal Service would have to fully fund future retirees' health benefits for the next 75 years and they would have to do it within a ten-year window.
Naturally, USPS suggested that this be the first provision to axe, but Congress hasn't pushed for a repeal of PAEA. Next, USPS approached Congress with the idea of suspending Saturday mail delivery, but Congress prohibited USPS from making that change. In short, the Postal Service has approached the government time and time again with ways to save itself, but Congress has rejected every idea.
Well, a lot of it has to do with the whole catering-to-the-poor-and-employing-union-workers thing.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been fighting to cripple the USPS under the guise of "reform" for years. Issa first went to war with the USPS soon after the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the Postal Service reached a collective bargaining agreement that would have guaranteed USPS over $4 billion in cost savings on employees over the life of a contract. At the time, Postmaster Patrick Donahue hailed the deal as a victory for the Postal Service, its employees and the people they serve.
But then, as the union was preparing to vote on the agreement, Issa called a hearing on the contract—a completely unprecedented move. Here was a Republican chair of the Oversight Committee grilling the postmaster general about an agreement upon which a union was currently voting.