Daily Briefing: Scheduled Delivery
Congress is back on track to pull the U.S. Postal Service from the precipice of bankruptcy before the middle of May, when the agency says it will otherwise become essentially insolvent.
The plight of the Postal Service has been a decided afterthought in the national conversation. And that’s understandable in a lengthening era when Washington, D.C., remains totally gridlocked over the undeniably biggest issues facing the country — surging government debt, a balky economy, high unemployment and global warming, for starters — and in a “silly season” springtime where the top stories out of the capital are over-the-top captivating even for citizens who don’t care anything about what normally goes on in government: the General Services Administration’s wrong-headed efforts to redefine the meaning of “procurement strategy” in Las Vegas (run by an official, Jeff Neely, who showed off a photo of himself and a nice glass of red wine in a federally-financed hotel hot tub) and the Secret Service’s wrong-headed efforts to redefine the meaning of “advance work” in Colombia (involving an agent, David Chaney, who showed off a photo of himself ogling Sarah Palin — complete with the Facebook caption, “I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean.”)
But if the mail stops showing up, all of the public’s guffaws of disapproval over bureaucratic and bodyguard malfeasance, and all its collective head-scratching about political dysfunction in the face of macroeconomic and budget challenges, will be comprehensively superseded by genuinely disbelieving outrage.
Congressional approval slipped only toward single-digit territory last year after Hill impasses created possible shutdowns of national parks and passport offices, halts to airport construction, cancellation of road projects and a possible default on U.S. bonds.
It would plunge toward absolute zero if the nation’s bills and birthday cards and magazines and catalogs are not delivered. It may sound mundane and naive to all the Internet bankers and online shoppers inside the Beltway (and to those who find D.C.’s mail delivery less than adequate), but in vast stretches of the real America, timely mail service is the last bedrock of governmental competence. They do not know that the Postal Service is a mostly independent agency that’s been given ample freedom to run like a business. And they do not care.
Which is why it was a baseline survival move when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reached a deal with everyone else in the every-Senator-for-himself-or-
The heart of the measure is an $11 billion infusion of cash — basically a refund of past overpayments to a federal pension fund — which the agency wants to use to pay down debt and offer buyouts to 100,000 postal employees.
The bill would also allow the Postal Service to make smaller future payments for retiree health benefits and trim benefits to its current workforce. But it would limit to only half steps many of the bold moves Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe wants to take in order to cut $22 billion in operating costs in the next three years — halving the number of mail processing centers he could close, slowing to a crawl his plans for shuttering under-patronized post offices and delaying for two years a decision about the future of Saturday delivery.
The key Senate vote on Tuesday will be on an amendment (by Sen. John McCain of Arizona) that would give Donahoe almost all of what he’s asked for — and would thereby emulate the House GOP leadership’s bill. He will need 60 votes to succeed, and he’s not likely to get them. If that happens, the question will be whether the tough-love, fiscally conservative crowd in the House is willing to accept the only politically viable option available before the deadline — or to hold the line on principle (and threaten a hold on mail delivery) by declaring an impasse.
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