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Congress, Not the Internet to Blame for Postal Woes

WASHINGTON – By now you have probably heard that the US Postal Service is ending Saturday delivery of first-class mail in order to cut some of its financial losses. What you might not know is that Congress is the cause of most of those losses.

To be sure, people are sending fewer letters through USPS. The amount of first-class letters sent is down about 25% since 2006. Much of this drop is undoubtedly owed to people paying their bills online. However, as anyone who has checked the mailbox recently can attest, there is still a lot of other mail clogging up the box on a daily basis.

What is crushing the postal service is its pension plan; but don’t point the finger at the employees or their union, this is a congressionally manufactured crisis. In 2006, the Republican led Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which required that the Postal Service prefund their pension program for the next 75 years.

If 75 years sounds a little high, it is because it is; ridiculously so even. No other organization, public or private, is required to meet that type of obligation. To put this in perspective, assuming an employee works for thirty years and lives for another thirty after retirement, the USPS is being forced to save up for the pensions of employees that won’t be hired until 15 years from now.

This past year the postal service had losses totaling $15.9 billion; of that number $11.1 billion was due to defaulting on its pension obligations for the last two years. Internal USPS analysis has shown that without having to meet the additional $5.5 billion in pension payments mandated by Congress, that the postal service would actually be running a $1.5 billion surplus.

Why would Congressional Republicans impose such a burden on an institution so central to many Americans’ daily lives? The answer lies in ideology. The right wing dislikes public sector operations regardless of how effective they might be. They knew that this requirement would prove too much of a financial problem for the post office to cope with and that as a result USPS would be forced to cut services and close branches. And what was the best part for them? When the cuts did inevitably come, they could blame the employees and their union and tout this as another example of government “inefficiency” in action.

Those most likely to be hurt by this are older and rural Americans, who use the internet less often. Ironically, those are the same Americans that voted disproportionately for the Congress that caused this mess.

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