The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

USPS supports five-day delivery swap with highway fund boost

(David Goldman/AP)

A plan from House Republicans to buoy the nearly-empty highway trust fund with savings from eliminating Saturday mail delivery has struck many observers as an odd idea — a budget accounting trick that would finance road projects by preventing a future bailout of the U.S. Postal Service. [if gte mso 9]>

But the top postal official says he couldn’t be more pleased.

“We not only need five-day delivery,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in an interview. “But I would say, if this was able to help take the angst out of the [broader postal] legislation for some lawmakers, that would help us out.”

Donahoe has long pushed to eliminate Saturday delivery of letters, a service cut that’s estimated to save the financially strapped mail agency about $2 billion a year (some Democrats, labor unions and postal regulators have questioned whether the savings could be that high).

Last year, frustrated that Congress has been unable to reach consensus on a broad package of reforms to stabilize postal finances, Donahoe tried and failed to do an end run around lawmakers and move ahead with five-day delivery on his own.

Since then, postal reform is still elusive, with a move to five-day delivery the biggest sticking point for congressional Democrats and many Republicans who represent rural districts. More than three dozen House Republicans have signed a resolution calling on the Postal Service to maintain six-day delivery.

But GOP leaders are hoping that their members’ interest in keeping highway projects in their districts flowing during the fall campaign will trump their concern about the cut to mail service.

“It’s the biggest, most solid piece of savings and the most controversial,” said one GOP House aide who was not authorized to discuss legislative strategy on the record.

“The feeling is, let’s get it off the table so we can have a larger discussion of postal reform.”

Five-day delivery also is a rare area of policy where House Republicans see eye-to-eye with the White House: The Obama administration supports the change.

Said Donahoe: “We’ve consistently said we need Congress to pass comprehensive legislation.”

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