NEARLY TWO months ago, Patrick R. Donahoe, the postmaster general and chief executive of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), announced that the postal service would stop Saturday mail delivery in August. At the time, we expressed the hope that Congress would treat Mr. Donahoe’s cost-cutting measure as a cue to address, at long last, the structural problems that necessitated it.
Alas, it appears that lawmakers are bound and determined to do the opposite. Instead of supporting Mr. Donahoe’s plan and providing USPS management with the tools to implement further savings, they are obstructing him.
The Republican-dominated House of Representatives has adopted a bill to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2013 that includes language historically interpreted to require six-day mail delivery. As this page went to press, the Democratic-majority Senate appeared poised to do the same, without even voting on an amendment from Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that would have let the USPS stop Saturday delivery. This, despite the fact that the Postal Service is losing $25 million per day and has maxed out its $15 billion line of credit with the U.S. Treasury.
The USPS says ending Saturday delivery will cut its losses, projected to reach $7.9 billion this year, by up to $2 billion. Poll after poll show that most Americans are willing to give up Saturday delivery rather than add to the risk of an expensive postal bailout later on. The most recent such survey, by CBS News, found that 71 percent of the public favored ending Saturday delivery. It’s no mystery why: In the digital age, fewer and fewer people actually depend on mail; many regard USPS-delivered ads as a nuisance. According to the CBS News poll, 18 percent of the public says it “almost never” uses the mail — a figure that is bound to grow, given that Americans younger than 30 are the least likely to say they need the postal service.
The arguments for the status quo have taken on a certain desperate quality. Even though every serious analyst to study the USPS’s financial predicament has recommended curtailing Saturday delivery, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) say that shouldn’t happen until the USPS details exactly how it arrived at its savings estimate. Others have made an issue of the supposed defiance of Congress that the USPS demonstrated by trying to curtail Saturday delivery, when in fact the agency was doing lawmakers a favor by offering to take the political hit for service reductions.
Congressional foot-draggers are ignoring public sentiment and postal management’s abundantly documented cost concerns in favor of postal unions, corporate mailers and other groups that cling to the outmoded postal business model, regardless of the potential cost to taxpayers. The fact is that ending Saturday delivery is only a small part of the change the USPS needs to survive in the post-paper world. Yet seemingly even that is too much for a Congress wedded to the status quo and the special interests that benefit from it.