Congress must not let this opportunity for structural reform pass, as it has on so many previous occasions. The first step is to stop wasting time on extraneous issues, such as President Trump’s complaint that the USPS undercharges Amazon for package delivery. (Jeff Bezos, CEO and chairman of Amazon, owns The Post.) Mr. Trump’s beef with Amazon was a key reason the administration blocked broader cash relief for the Postal Service in the Cares Act. However, even if the USPS could increase its revenue from package delivery dramatically — a highly unlikely possibility — it would still face fundamental problems: the precipitous decline of first-class mail, over-regulation and vast unfunded retiree benefit liabilities.
The disaster confronting the Postal Service goes far beyond anything it could have been expected to anticipate. Yet it is also the case that the USPS would have been in a much better position to withstand the coronavirus crisis if Congress had enacted comprehensive reforms years ago, as many recommended. Given that, the fairest, most sustainable option is for Congress to provide the Postal Service generous financial assistance — not the $75 billion wish list the USPS has presented, but enough to assure its midrange solvency — in return for substantial structural reform.
The elements of such reform are already familiar from multiple studies and analyses of the system, as well as from the provisions of previous proposed legislation: an end to mandatory Saturday mail delivery (which could save $2 billion per year, according to the USPS); greater regulatory latitude to set prices and develop new products; closing or consolidating underutilized postal facilities; and shifting retiree health benefits to Medicare.
These and other reforms have been defeated in the past by a coalition of interest groups that benefits from the pre-coronavirus crisis status quo. They may resist again, but just throwing billions at the USPS with no corresponding modifications to its outmoded business model will achieve nothing. What might work is a grand bargain: rescue in exchange for reform.