The U.S. Postal Service Is Fine, It’s Congress That’s Broken

Amidst all of the other things that are FUBAR, you might have missed that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is running a $5 billion annual deficit, and over the last four years has accumulated $13 billion in debt.

This is often used to bolster arguments that USPS is outdated and that mail service is becoming antiquated. Except this has nothing to do with USPS’ business model, and everything to do with Congressional stupidity (boldface mine):

These gloomsayers claim the national mail agency is bogged down with too many overpaid workers and costly brick-and-mortar facilities, so it can’t keep up with the instant messaging of Internet services and such nimble corporate competitors as FedEx. Thus, say these contrivers of their own conventional wisdom, the Postal Service is unprofitable and is costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year in losses. Wrong…

The privatizers squawk that USPS has gone some $13 billion in the hole during the past four years — a private corporation would go broke with that record! (Actually, private corporations tend to go to Washington rather than go broke, getting taxpayer bailouts to cover their losses.) The Postal Service is NOT broke. Indeed, in those four years of loudly deplored “losses,” the service actually produced a $700 million operational profit (despite the worst economy since the Great Depression).

What’s going on here? Right-wing sabotage of USPS financing, that’s what.

In 2006, the Bush White House and Congress whacked the post office with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act — an incredible piece of ugliness requiring the agency to PRE-PAY the health care benefits not only of current employees, but also of all employees who’ll retire during the next 75 years. Yes, that includes employees who’re not yet born!

No other agency and no corporation has to do this. Worse, this ridiculous law demands that USPS fully fund this seven-decade burden by 2016. Imagine the shrieks of outrage if Congress tried to slap FedEx or other private firms with such an onerous requirement.

This politically motivated mandate is costing the Postal Service $5.5 billion a year — money taken right out of postage revenue that could be going to services. That’s the real source of the “financial crisis” squeezing America’s post offices.

In addition, due to a 40-year-old accounting error, the federal Office of Personnel Management has overcharged the post office by as much as $80 billion for payments into the Civil Service Retirement System. This means that USPS has had billions of its sales dollars erroneously diverted into the treasury. Restore the agency’s access to its own postage money, and the impending “collapse” goes away.

That’s right, Republicans and their ConservaDem enablers pushed this insanity through. Many communities depend on USPS:

They could slow everything from check payments to Netflix’s DVDs-by-mail, add costs to mail-order prescription drugs, and threaten the existence of newspapers and time-sensitive magazines delivered by postal carrier to far-flung suburban and rural communities…

Small-town mayors and legislators in states including Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania cited the economic harm if postal offices were to close, eliminating jobs and reducing service. Small-business owners in many other states also were worried.

“It’s kind of a lifeline,” said William C. Snodgrass, who owns a USave Pharmacy in North Platte, Neb., referring to next-day first-class delivery. His store mails hundreds of prescriptions a week to residents in mostly rural areas of the state that lack local pharmacies. If first-class delivery were lengthened to three days and Saturday mail service also were suspended, a resident might not get a shipment mailed on Wednesday until the following week.

“A lot of people in these communities are 65 or 70 years old, and transportation is an issue for them,” said Snodgrass, who hasn’t decided whether he will have to switch to a private carrier such as UPS for one-day delivery. That would mean passing along higher shipping costs to customers. “It’s impossible for many of my customers to drive 100 miles, especially in the winter, to get the medications they need.”

It goes without saying that customers using a private delivery service will end up paying more–if it delivers there at all. And when you consider it, the Postal Service is pretty remarkable:

I have no idea why people have decided the Post Office needs to run like a business, with profits each year or be damned, but it is insane. This is a basic service that government can and should provide. And it is an amazing service. For the price of half a soda, you can mail anything you want, and in a day or two it gets there. EVEN ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE COUNTRY. You can drop a letter in the mailbox in New York, get in the car and drive nonstop to California, and odds are the letter will beat you. I know we’re all in the age of the internet and expect everything instantly, but that’s still pretty amazing.

Actually, it’s not just a service civilized nations (and even not-so-civilized nations) should provide, it’s actually a Constitutionally-mandated service.

But I’m guessing the right wingers will argue against original intent. Or something.

This is how great nations die, bit by bit until suddenly everything is degraded.

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2 Responses to The U.S. Postal Service Is Fine, It’s Congress That’s Broken

  1. Art says:

    IMO you are entirely correct in your reference to the “How Nations Die” aspects of politics. The GOP has simply decided to make the nation ungovernable as long as they are not in control of everything. Their constant long term antagonism to the USPS comes from it being one of the last remaining public institutions that works. But there are two things that really stick in their craw: The USPS is relatively blind to money and position, everyone gets the same good service at a reasonable price; and, the big one; the USPS is unionized. As the GOP has shown with education, they are willing to destroy the institution and weaken the nation to get rid of any union. The idea of workers banding together to negotiation with business of equal terms is anathema to their philosophy.

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