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Salon: Congress’s war on the post office


The Postal Service faces a threat greater than email or economics: Politics.

-By Josh Eidelson

March 14, 2012- After a stopgap measure last year, Congress will once again debate whether the United States Postal Service as we know it can survive.  The better question is: Will Congress let it?

The U.S. Postal Service is at risk of defaulting on healthcare obligations or exceeding its debt limit by the end of the year. Last month, USPS management unveiled a “Path to Profitability” that would eliminate over a hundred thousand jobs, end Saturday service and loosen overnight delivery guarantees. The Postal Service also proposes to shutter thousands of post offices.  “Under the existing laws, the overall financial situation for the Postal Service is poor,” says CFO Joe Corbett.  Republicans have been more dire, and none more so than Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who warned of a “crisis that is bringing USPS to the brink of collapse.”

Listening to Issa, you’d never know that the post office’s immediate crisis is largely of Congress’s own making.  Conservatives aren’t wrong to say that the shift toward electronic mail – what USPS calls “e-diversion” – poses a challenge for the Postal Service’s business model.  (The recent drop-off in mail is also a consequence of the recession-induced drop in advertising.)

But even so, in the first quarter of this fiscal year, the post office would have made an operational profit, if not for a 75-year healthcare “pre-funding” mandate that applies to no other public or private institution in the United States.

Warren Gunnels, aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders, calls that mandate “the poison pill that has hammered the Postal Service … over 80 percent of the Postal Service deficit since that was enacted was entirely due to the pre-funding requirement.”

This death hug was part of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which was passed on a voice vote by a lame duck Republican Congress in 2006.  As I’ve reported, the mandate required the Postal Service, over 10 years, to pre-fund healthcare benefits for the next 75.  This unique burden costs USPS $5.5 billion a year. The new law also restricted the Postal Service’s ability to raise postage rates, or to provide “nonpostal services” that, in an e-diversion era, could be key to its future.  American Postal Workers Union president Cliff Guffey says the bill was designed “by those people who hate government … to destroy the Postal Service.  And that’s what they did.”

FULL STORY HERE