Saturday Mail and Congressional Incompetence


The U.S. Postal Service is in a strange position. They need to make money in order to have a budget, but they are still constrained by Congress, despite receiving almost no tax money for operations (some subsidies are provided for disabled and oversea voters). Also, in 2006–a record mail volume year–Congress  mandated that the Postal Service set aside $5.5 billion per year, for ten years, in order to cover “future medical costs for retirees”, however no other federal agency has been required to do the same. Since 2006 mail volume has sharply declined due to e-mail, and electronic payments, while package delivery has slowly ticked up for the USPS. For some time the U.S. Postal Service has been trying to get Congress to do something about their bleeding budget, but Congress has failed to act. Now, the Postal Service appears to be moving ahead on the plan to cut Saturday mail delivery, saving about $2 billion each year.

Since package delivery has taken a bigger portion of their business, packages will still be delivered on Saturdays, but not letters, beginning in August. If we were just talking about operating costs, the $2 billion saved would go a long way towards closing the $2.4 billion gap. But with the requirements to set aside money for future medical costs of retirees, and related labor expenses, another $11.1 billion in red ink was added to the USPS in 2012.

The bottom line is that we have an irresponsible Congress who refuses to carry out their duties. Not only do they fail to balance the U.S. budget, but they cannot even fix the budget problems in one agency–one of the very few federal agencies specifically authorized by the Constitution. Although the Postmaster General says that about 7 in 10 Americans favor cutting Saturday mail delivery, some still claim that cutting Saturday mail delivery will hurt some people worse than others.

[P]resident of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando, said the end of Saturday mail delivery is “a disastrous idea that would have a profoundly negative effect on the Postal Service and on millions of customers,” particularly businesses, rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others who depend on Saturday delivery for commerce and communication.

He said the maneuver by Donahoe to make the change “flouts the will of Congress, as expressed annually over the past 30 years in legislation that mandates six-day delivery.”

It seems to me that the more flouting of Congress’s will the better. What kind of Congress mandates costs to an organization, then fails to take action when that agency cannot balance its budget as a result of Congressional mandates? So Congress has thought for 30 years that mail should be delivered on Saturdays, but 30 years ago the internet was just being developed. Surely switching from horse drawn buggy’s to mail trucks hurt some horse breeders, but does that mean that we should never have moved on, in order to preserve an outdated industry?

I cannot see the halt of Saturday mail delivery seriously harming any individual or business. The fact is, that in order to remain a viable business, you need to adapt to changing circumstances; this is not a hard one to adapt too. However when trying to run a business, such as the Postal Service, it is impossible to adapt to mandates which amount to more expenditures than income. This is the situation imposed, and I think any steps the Postal Service can take to cut costs and get closer to a balanced budget is a positive change. Maybe if Congress would allow the agency to be run independently, they could structure their own conditions of delivery, while preserving the statute that they must bring the mail to where it is addressed for the same costs anywhere in America. If this means the price of a stamp goes up to $3, so be it, because it would reflect the actual costs of delivering mail. In a competitive system, if Fed Ex or UPS thinks they can deliver mail for cheaper, than they will do so.

Congress is holding the USPS hostage much the same way they hold the American people hostage. In order not to look like the bad guys, Congress has ignored the Postal problem, and pretended it would just go away. This should not be surprising, as they have ignored the ridiculous U.S. deficits and debt. Then, when in trouble, they hold the citizens of the country hostage, saying tax increases are the only way. Well, if the taxpayers didn’t approve higher taxes ten, twenty, or fifty years ago, than apparently they did not approve higher spending ten, twenty, or fifty years ago either. But Congress said, we don’t care, we are going to spend more anyway, and just raise taxes later; we don’t care we will spend your grand-children’s money before they are even born. Likewise, in 2006, Congress said, we want the votes of the Postal workers, so we are going to mandate more money for their health benefits, without figuring out where this money would come from.

But the saddest part is that these people are reelected, instead of being punished by the electorate for their incompetence.

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” -Alexis de Toqueville

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