The Washington Post

Lawmakers divided on Postal Service plan

Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe speaks during a news conference at U.S. Postal Service headquarters on Wednesday Feb. 6, 2013 in Washington. The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service says it will stop delivering mail on Saturdays but continue to disburse packages six days a week. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Lawmakers wrestled Thursday with how to address Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe’s announcement that the U.S. Postal Service plans to end Saturday mail delivery in August.

Donahoe moved to circumvent Congress’s long-standing resistance to the proposal for five-day delivery, a move the Postal Service thinks will save about $2 billion annually and help ease its financial losses. The agency lost $15.9 billion in the last fiscal year.

The postmaster took advantage of legislators’ own dysfunction over budget matters this week, gambling that lawmakers will not thwart his plan after Congress’s temporary spending measure expires March 27.

The spending plan includes language requiring six-day delivery, but lawmakers have not said whether they will insist on the language in the next spending bill.

It appeared Thursday that the issue was shaping up among lawmakers like the discussions over the automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, which are set to kick in March 1.

Legislators questioned the legality of Donahoe’s plan and pointed fingers over Congress’s inability last year to achieve comprehensive postal reform, but none outlined a strategy to prevent the Postal Service’s effort.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement Thursday that such a drastic policy move requires congressional approval.

“The Postmaster General relied on flawed legal guidance to claim that he can circumvent Congress’s authority,” he said.

Reid also expressed frustration at lawmakers’ failure last year on postal reform. “This unfortunate scenario could have been wholly prevented if the House had passed the Senate’s bipartisan postal reform bill in the last Congress,” he said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and supported the Senate’s bill last year, said, “The Postal Service’s decision to eliminate Saturday delivery is inconsistent with current law and threatens to further jeopardize its customer base.”

Other Republicans applauded Donahoe.

Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which oversees the Postal Service, supports the plan. His office said the Postal Service could legally alter Saturday mail services despite any future provisions Congress might enact to require six-day delivery. “In its announced change, USPS is not eliminating a day of delivery, but rather altering what products are delivered on that day,” a spokesman said.

The Postal Service did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Although it plans to end Saturday mail delivery, it has said that it will continue delivering packages on Saturdays and that post offices will be open to sell stamps and other materials. Post office boxes will receive mail on Saturdays, but magazines and some newspapers, catalogues and Netflix will not reach homes that day.

Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who opposes Donahoe’s decision, said in an interview Thursday that he would fight any effort to remove the six-day-delivery requirement from the next spending bill. But he stopped short of saying he would vote against an appropriations bill that does not include the mandate.

“The future of the Postal Service is very important, but it has to be looked at in a broader context,” Sanders said.

Last year, the House and Senate produced competing bills to help staunch the Postal Service’s financial losses. The Senate approved legislation that would have delayed five-day mail delivery for two years while trying out other cost-saving tactics, but the House never voted on the measure. A House bill that would have ended Saturday delivery right away never reached the floor.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) said he had no idea what his committee would do about the postal plan.

Said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.): “I think the problem is the will of the Congress has not been expressed. Congress has not acted, and I think that left a vacuum.”

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debated Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Highlights from Saturday's GOP debate
Except for an eminent domain attack from Bush, Trump largely avoided strikes from other candidates.

Christie went after Rubio for never having been a chief executive and for relying on talking points.

Carson tried to answer a question on Obamacare by lamenting that he hadn't been asked an earlier question about North Korea.
The GOP debate in 3 minutes
Play Video
We have all donors in the audience. And the reason they're booing me? I don't want their money!
Donald Trump, after the debate crowd at St. Anselm's College booed him for telling Jeb Bush to be "quiet."
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 38%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.