Fiscal conservatives applauded the U.S. Postal Service’s announcement today that it will eliminate Saturday delivery of first-class mail — but not packages — beginning in August, but two key senators panned it.
Postal Service officials believe they can make the change because the continuing appropriations bill (PL 112-175), which expires on March 27, does not include a customary rider holding them to six-day-a-week mail delivery, said Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe.
“We think that we’re on good footing with this,” he said. “It’s not a hair-splitter, loophole type of approach.”
If there is a lawsuit or members of Congress disagree with the Postal Service legal team’s assessment, there are several weeks to work out language to include in the next appropriations measure, he added.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday he was sympathetic to what Donahoe and fellow officials are trying to do. “I understand where the postal commission’s coming from. They’re in charge with running the post office. But yet the Congress, in its wisdom, has tied their hands every which way in order for them to actually run the post office in a revenue-neutral way,” he said.
“I know that (Oversight and Government Reform) Chairman (Darrell) Issa is interested in moving the postal reform bill. I know that they are having bipartisan conversations about how to do this, and I would hope that the Congress would act in a timely fashion,” Boehner said.
Although Saturday delivery of letters and magazines will end the week of Aug. 5, delivery of packages, which is profitable, will continue. Maintaining Saturday package delivery also eliminates one of the primary concerns of some legislators, that the elderly and veterans would not be able to receive mail-order prescription medications on Saturdays.
Issa supported the move. “The postmaster is maintaining six-day delivery [of packages] while at the same time making sure he doesn’t lose several billion dollars,” he said.
“Today the post office made a smart business decision because of low demand,” added Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., now the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who “applauded” the move.
In a letter to House and Senate majority and minority leaders, Issa and Coburn requested that the rider, which ties six-day-a-week service to a $100 million reimbursement for services used by the federal government, be left out of any subsequent appropriations measures.
But any move to five-day-per-week service should be made over a longer timeline in a manner similar to that outlined in a bill the Senate passed last year, said Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, in a release.
“Piecemeal efforts like the one the Postal Service announced today will not be enough to solve the Postal Service’s financial challenges for the long haul,” he said.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the former ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, tweeted that the Postal Service decision “is inconsistent with current law and threatens to further jeopardize its customer base.”
And New York Democratic Rep. José E. Serrano said USPS is acting outside its legal authority in suspending Saturday delivery. “The passage of the continuing resolution did not suspend that language, as they claim, but in fact extended it,” he said in a release.
He added he intends to work with Financial Services Committee Republicans to make sure the post office complies with “the letter and the spirit” of the law.
Congressional leaders did not question the need for some sort of change at the Postal Service, which faces declining mail volume as more Americans pay bills and do other business online. The agency lost $15.9 billion in fiscal 2012 and defaulted on $11.1 billion in pre-payments made to the U.S. Treasury to pre-fund future retiree health care costs.
Ending Saturday delivery of first-class mail will save about $2 billion annually, according to the Postal Service. Approximately 22,500 jobs will be eliminated. The Postal Service believes it can reduce the workforce through attrition rather than layoffs or buyouts, Donahoe said.
Carper and Issa pledged just after the New Year to continue working on overhaul legislation in the 113th Congress, and Carper has scheduled a hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the issue next week.
Donahoe said legislative leaders still need to work on near- and long-term employee health care costs, reimbursement of a $6 billion overpayment the Postal Service made for retirement payments, and flexibility on product offerings.
Issa said legislators were close to a compromise at the end of the last Congress but a few “what we think of as smaller issues,” such as how to deal with workers’ compensation, held up a final deal. He said workers’ compensation needs to be updated. “We think it’s good for the worker — either get them onto a retirement program or get them back to a job they can do,” he said.
Issa predicted “we should be able to get to a bipartisan bill this Congress,” and Rep. Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla., who worked on the issue last year, agreed.
Layoff clauses and retirement incentives were “hard votes for some people, so in order to get past the election, that was postponed,” Ross said.
“Now that you’ve got a new makeup in the Senate on this issue, and Issa’s still here in the House, I think you’ll see it move a little faster,” Ross said. “I think Issa has the votes now to get it on the floor, especially with what the post office is doing with five-day (delivery).”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.