Even if election-year politics were not paralyzing Congress, it would be hard to pass a major reform of the U.S. Postal Service.
Heaven knows the USPS needs an overhaul. It’s losing customers and billions of dollars per year, in part because electronic communication has rendered its traditional business model – first-class mail – obsolescent. Yet postal unions, bulk mailers, rural communities and other “stakeholders,” as special-interest groups are known in Washington, have lobbied successfully against change.
It was in that depressing context that Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House committee that oversees the Postal Service, heard testimony this month on the President Barack Obama administration’s ideas for reform. Among the points Brian C. Deese, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, made was that the president favors a phase-out of Saturday mail delivery, along with greater use of curbside mail delivery, as the president proposed in his fiscal 2015 budget. Taken together, such streamlined delivery would save the USPS $500 million a year, Mr. Deese testified. That’s not nearly enough, by itself, to rectify the Postal Service’s financial problems, but it’s not chump change, either.
More important, perhaps, ending Saturday delivery is one of the few substantial reforms that enjoys widespread, bipartisan support. Obama wants it. Issa is in favor. A Senate committee has already passed a bill, by a vote of 9 to 1, that would allow the USPS to end Saturday delivery.
Last but certainly not least, the American public seems quite willing to sacrifice Saturday mail in the cause of postal solvency. That’s the consistent finding of public opinion polls, including a February 2013 Gallup survey showing that 63 percent of Americans support a Saturday phase-out.
Given the availability of text messaging and email – and given that the USPS would continue to deliver packages on Saturday – it would be surprising if the surveys came out differently. Opponents of postal reform are setting themselves against this widespread, common-sense sentiment.
Issa is said to be interested in moving a postal bill through his committee this year. Certainly the Senate’s action and the White House’s position are auspicious signs.
The more tightly that reform legislation can focus on the areas of consensus, specifically including an end to Saturday delivery, the greater the chances it can succeed.