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Shortsighted Senate May Shoot Down Post Office Reform

This could get ugly. The New York Times is reporting that the Senate is close to deciding on whether to include a provision in an upcoming resolution to keep the United States Postal Service delivering mail six days a week—against the wishes of the postmaster general. This provision, echoing one passed last week by the House, would ratchet up the pressure on the USPS to comply, even though there’s no law mandating Saturday delivery.

It’s a ridiculous situation. The USPS is hemorrhaging money and wants to do something about it, and Congress, which helped precipitate the agency’s recent woes, is fighting tooth and nail to prevent it from righting its ship. To fully appreciate the folly of the situation, this passage ought to do the trick:

Among the changes the Postal Service is seeking is the modification of a 2006 law that requires the agency to pay $5.5 billion a year into a health fund for future retirees. The agency was forced to default on two payments last year after reaching its borrowing limit. The defaults contributed to the agency’s posting of a $15.9 billion loss last year.

The postmaster general, Patrick R. Donahoe, has repeatedly asked Congress to give the post office the flexibility to change its delivery schedule. But Congress, for the most part, has rejected his pleas. A House bill that failed to get out of committee last year would have given the agency the authority to change to a five-day delivery schedule.

We’ve been following this slow-motion car-wreck for a while now. Cutting back on Saturday delivery is both popular and obviously necessary, and yet Congress can’t seem to get out of the way of even the most basic reforms. It’s a classic story of special interests and myopia.

The writing is on the wall for the USPS. It has to reinvent itself or face an unpleasant reckoning very soon. Business as usual stopped being viable many years ago.

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