New Castle News

Editorials

February 15, 2013

Our Opinion: Will postal service move prompt Congress to act?

NEW CASTLE — We anticipate no national outrage over the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to end regular Saturday home delivery.

The simple fact is that weekend mail doesn’t constitute much of an essential anymore. For most individuals — and most businesses for that matter — Saturday mail delivery is something they can do without.

So even if the postal service wasn’t bleeding red ink, the elimination of regular Saturday mail delivery makes a certain amount of sense. Any business ought to seriously consider a move that would save an estimated $2 billion a year with limited impact on customers.

Unfortunately, the move by the postal service isn’t some routine cost-cutting measure. It’s part of an effort to survive. Slashing $2 billion from its annual budget may be a step in the right direction, but it’s a fraction of the more than $9 billion to $15 billion the service loses annually.

There are various reasons for this. The postal service has private competitors that take a bite out of business. But more dramatic is the Internet. Thanks to emails, web-based financial transactions and related forms of communication, regular mail delivery is down about 20 percent over the last 10 years.

Yet these most visible challenges to the postal service aren’t the real culprits threatening to send it into oblivion. Instead, the big problem is Congress and the financial burden it has placed on the postal service.

Under the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enforcement Act, the postal service is required to make health care payment for retirees into the future. This is something no other government agency is required to do. It makes one wonder if the goal of the legislation was to put the service in an untenable position.

And this is just the most glaring example of the restrictions Congress has placed on the postal service. Even the decision to end Saturday mail delivery is supposed to require congressional approval before it happens.

Of course, Congress could get away with this because costs to the postal service fly under the public’s radar screen. Plus, the postal service has regular revenue coming in that can be tapped for health care funding (albeit not nearly enough).

If other agencies operated under the same rules, Congress would be obliged to find the money by cutting programs, raising taxes or increasing the national debt.

Some analysts suggest the announcement to end Saturday mail delivery is designed to prompt a response from Congress. We’re not sure that’s true, because we’re not sure the move puts much pressure on lawmakers.

However, this ought to be viewed as an opportunity for Congress to rethink its rules and restrictions on the postal service. The agency need not have a free financial ride in the marketplace, but it shouldn’t be hamstrung either.

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