Ending Saturday delivery is just one way to save itself while House, Senate are all tied up.
Anyone who pays bills online, or sent an electronic Valentine's Day greeting instead of a card, should understand why the U.S. Postal Service is in deep trouble. But Congress is standing in the way of the service's efforts to save money — and itself.
OPPOSING VIEW : Don't end Saturday mail
Though members of Congress often claim they want the post office to function like a business, they veto exactly the sort of tough decisions a corporate executive would make. In the week since the Postal Service announced plans to end Saturday mail delivery, effective Aug. 10, numerous lawmakers have condemned the plan and vowed to block it.
They had the same reaction last year to the Postal Service's proposal to close thousands of smaller, money-losing post offices. Postal officials compromised by keeping the offices open while cutting their hours, but the service continues to hemorrhage money.
It has maxed out a $15 billion line of credit from the Treasury, and hasn't had any direct taxpayer funding since the early 1980s. And although most of last year's net loss came from prepayments for retiree benefits — a clumsy mandate that Congress imposed in 2006 — the core business is also deeply in the red thanks to continuing steep declines in first-class mail.
With the service bleeding $25 million a day, something has to change. And fast.
One of those things is six-day-a-week mail service. In the Internet era, Saturday delivery has become yet another nice-to-have benefit that Americans can live without. The plan to end it, except for packages, would save $2 billion a year.
Polls show that almost three-quarters of Americans favor that tradeoff, but Congress has repeatedly objected, attaching provisions to spending bills to prohibit postal officials from acting on their own.
If lawmakers want to do something productive, they could pass a broad plan for saving national mail delivery. But they can't. Year after year, postal officials sound the alarm and urge enactment of a comprehensive bill to let the agency to save money. And year after year, Congress dawdles, unwilling to do one of its most basic jobs.
Last year, for example, Republican House leaders said they just couldn't find the time to bring a Postal Service reorganization bill to the floor — at the same time they were scheduling the 33rd vote to repeal ObamaCare.
At a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe begged senators not to renew the legal provision that bars the Postal Service from acting on Saturday delivery. He shouldn't have to beg. Lawmakers who won't make tough choices themselves have a lot of nerve criticizing the Postal Service for trying to preserve itself.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., put his finger on the problem. "There's really 536 postmaster generals," Coburn said, referring to the 100 senators and 435 representatives telling Donahoe how to do his job. "The goal ought to be that there's one. The fact is, the post office is in trouble."
That's a message that needs to be delivered every day of the week.
* This our view has been updated to reflect the print version in the Feb. 15 edition.