Published April 21. 2013 4:00AM
If you were to make a list of government services you and your family rely upon, it would no doubt include national security and defense, education, health care, police and fire protection, infrastructure and the other rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. As the list lengthened, you might be adding more mundane things like snow removal, but it is doubtful you would ever get down to Saturday mail delivery.
Yet the Congress of the United States, which has done little or nothing to preserve, uphold or protect many of these services in recent months and years, has become obsessed over whether the financially challenged United States Postal Service has the right to reduce the delivery of some of the mail from five to six days.
Earlier this year, the Postal Service announced a sensible plan to discontinue most Saturday mail delivery, except packages, in order to save about $2 billion. But Congress insisted only Congress has the right to determine the delivery schedule and after passage of congressional resolutions to that effect, the USPS board of governors announced last week that "Congress has left it with no choice but to delay implementation at this time."
Having suffered a severe drop in mail volume in recent years due to the competition of email and other technological advances, the USPS lost nearly $16 billion last year. In addition to losing business to more efficient competition, the Postal Service has been economically drained by a 2006 law requiring it to set aside $5.5 billion a year to finance health benefits for future retirees. That was the Congress' principal contribution to ruining the Postal Service before blocking the delivery cutback.
With personal mail reduced to bills, solicitations and junk mail for large numbers of Americans, polls have indicated widespread support for reducing mail delivery for everything but packages to five days. Most polls have had between 70 percent and 80 percent of the public in favor of the USPS economy moves.
Opposition has come from both postal unions and their Democratic allies and rural Republicans, who are also concerned about plans to close some post offices. But, despite the best efforts of some lawmakers, reform isn't quite dead.
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, whose House Oversight Committee oversees the Postal Service, believes the USPS does not need congressional approval to alter its delivery schedule but acknowledged powerful special interest lobbying had frightened it. The fiscally conservative Republican Sen. Tom Coburn also criticized the service for having "succumbed to parochial-minded micro-managers in Congress. We need one postmaster, not 536," he told The Hill in a reference to the House and Senate.
The two Republicans are expected to work with Democratic counterparts, Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. Elijah Cummings, on reform legislation.
And President Obama, heretofore reluctant to participate in the postal debate, proposes in his budget to allow USPS to move to a five-day delivery, make changes to the pension funding mandate and allow for a "modest," one-time rate increase.
So there is some hope these issues can be dealt with in time to save the Postal Service and ensure the public of at least five-day delivery of the U.S. mail for the foreseeable future. While we wait, the Postal Service continues to lose $25 million a day, seven days a week, also into the foreseeable future.