Mailing it in: Congress must be helpful with the Postal Service

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The Constitution gives Congress the power "to establish post offices and post roads" but lately Congress has used its power to make life difficult for the Postal Service. Sometimes, though, the politicians manage to be slightly helpful in being unhelpful.

The Postal Service, an independent agency of the federal government, wanted to end Saturday delivery, except for packages, starting in August. This was a bad idea whose time will not now come, thanks to Congress inserting language in a continuing funding resolution to prohibit this change.

Last Tuesday, the Postal Service Board of Governors acquiesced to this fact, but not without a warning. The agency needs the authority to change its service if it is to restore financial stability by generating $2 billion in annual savings, the governors said.

The Postal Service is expected to operate without subsidies from the government when the Internet has reduced mail volume and private carriers have robbed it of much of its business. It lost nearly $16 billion last year.

Some in Congress see this as the advantage of private enterprise. But the playing field is hardly even. Companies like Federal Express don't need a physical location in thousands of towns around the country, which the public demands of the post office.

Yet the Postal Service has made an effort to become lean and more efficient. It has shed some 200,000 jobs over the last few years, consolidated mail processing plants, closed many smaller post offices and made services available at other outlets. All the while, the cost of postage has gone up to compensate for lost revenue.

In our view, ending Saturday service would compromise its basic service, but clearly something has to be done -- and Congress can help. In 2006, it passed a bill that required the Postal Service to make large contributions to a health fund for future retirees, a burden that doesn't apply to other federal agencies. That requirement made up $11.1 billion of last year's loss. Talk about unhelpful.

Before postal workers are made to take pay cuts (the hope of the governing board), before Saturday mail service is eliminated, before postage goes up again, Congress should revisit the law and give the Postal Service a fighting change to make a go of it.

opinion_editorials


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