Earlier this month, the Star reprinted an editorial from the Washington Post that proposed a solution to the financial problems of the U.S. Postal Service.
While it apparently supports legislation with some usable and seemingly reasonable suggestions, it is fatally flawed. Why? Because it tries to solve a problem without recognizing its cause. The USPS difficulties result not from its management or failure to adapt to modern advances like email, but from an unreasonable financial burden imposed upon it by certain radical members of Congress. The problem is not the Postal Service, but Congress.
In addition, legislation currently pending, which the Post must be supporting (“Ending Saturday mail can be a start to postal reform,” May 1), are a House bill sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a longtime proponent of privatization of the Postal Service, and a Senate bill proposed by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Tom Carper, D-Del. None of these sponsors is a friend of the Postal Service, and both bills would cripple it competitively and economically.
Some background is helpful in understanding the situation. In 2006, at the urging of the Bush administration, by a voice vote, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the euphemistically and falsely titled “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.” This iniquitous legislation made the USPS the only enterprise in America required legally to pre-fund, at a penal rate, employee retirement and health care benefits more than 50 years into the future, thus providing for employees not yet born.
At the time business was going well for the USPS, it had no debt and was making a profit annually. Its retirement and health benefit fund already contained $45 billion. The law placed an extraordinary financial burden on the post office. An immediate result was a new expense of $5.5 billion per year. The USPS $15 billion debt limit was reached almost immediately.
Without this onerous pre-funding mandate, the Postal Service would have made a profit of $623 million last year. Simply eliminating it would produce an estimated $1 billion in profits this year.
To fully understand this situation, it is helpful to look at the history of the USPS. A historic institution, it was the product of the brilliance and imagination of Benjamin Franklin, and it began operating before the United States became an independent country.
Contrary to much of public opinion, it is not a government agency. It operates and is funded independently. It offered the public the opportunity to send a letter from Florida to Alaska for less than 50 cents. It is required by government regulation to provide universal service.
This story is not so complex as to defy full and accurate coverage by the media, but coverage has been so poor that few in this country are aware of its full details.
It is time for the public to demand a complete and effective solution to the financial problems the USPS — to begin we must repeal the falsely titled “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.”
Next we must eliminate the ban on flexibility mandated by the same congressional act and allow the Postal Service to provide new consumer services and products, and to move into the 21st century.
To accomplish this requires responsible media and public awareness that it is the Congress, not the Postal Service, that is the cause of the problem.