Since when does creating an unregulated monopoly with total pricing power qualify as reform?
That’s the “money question” as a proposed bill, scheduled to be up for a vote on Wednesday, seeks to bail out the United States Postal Service from its systemic woes with another round of band-aids, rather than real reform.
If a company were failing, unable or unwilling to stop overspending and its future was in danger, what board of directors in its right mind would pump more money into its existing leadership and structure and give them a blank check to do what they want?
But that’s just what this bill will do. If this new law sees the light of day, expect many more monopolistic overreaches like the 6 percent stamp rate hike (three times the rate of inflation) that the USPS put into effect last Sunday. And remember, the Post Office has a monopoly on your mailbox, too.
But the monopoly over the mailbox is no longer enough for the USPS. Now, the Postal Service is asking Congress to give it total, unchecked, unprecedented power to charge you and all other Americans whatever it wants for its “services.” And Congress is likely to go along.
Although the financial performance of the USPS has been improving lately, the Postal Service unquestionably faces serious challenges. Mail volume has been declining for years because of digital diversion — the increased use of the Internet and email to communicate, pay bills and conduct business transactions of all kinds. As a result, mail simply isn’t as necessary as it once was.
Unfortunately, the USPS hasn’t downsized as fast as the demand for its services has fallen. The result is overcapacity — its network is sized to handle twice today’s mail volume.
The USPS has not become irrelevant, however. For many American households, and for many key industries employing millions of Americans, a viable and affordable mail service remains crucial. A shrinking Postal Service is a real problem for the country and relief through thoughtful, constructive legislation is needed. But simply handing the USPS a blank check and telling it, in effect, to solve all its problems by raising prices on customers is not the solution — indeed, it is exactly the opposite of what a private business would do. Yet that is exactly what the Senate committee is poised to do.
The bill before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, scheduled to be voted on Wednesday, would make the USPS a government-sanctioned, unfettered, unchecked monopoly with unreviewable power to raise postage rates — whenever and however it chooses. The legislation authorizes the Postal Service Board of Governors to eliminate the main control on postal prices today — a federal law tying price increases to the rate of inflation — and arbitrarily set prices as high as the Postal Service pleases, with no oversight.