When he’s not investigating the ATF’s weird plan to fill Mexico with American guns, or relaxing with a nice New York Times hit piece that lies about him over a dozen times, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) of the House Oversight Committee spends a good deal of time contemplating the U.S. Postal Service. His committee just launched a new website that explains why “Saving the Postal Service” is necessary:
The United States Postal Service is bleeding money – $8.5 billion just last year. It’s also bleeding business – mail volume is down 20% since 2006 and not coming back. Just as trains replaced the pony express, the Internet has become the modern Postal Service’s greatest competition. That’s not going to change.
If you visit the web site, you’ll notice two things right away. The first is a clock counting down to “postal default,” which will occur at midnight on September 30, 2011. The second is a video that gives you an idea of what will happen when that countdown reaches zero:
We could be looking at a taxpayer bailout that would dwarf almost all that have come before it – perhaps as much as $18 billion more than the $57 billion auto company bailout. That would be on top of billions in taxpayer subsidies already poured into the USPS – which is exempt from local, state and federal income taxes, property taxes, and vehicle registration fees, along with enjoying a thoroughly maxed-out $15 billion line of credit with the U.S. Treasury.
There are a number of reasons for the Postal Service’s insolvency. One of them is the cost of benefits for its gigantic 570,000-member workforce, whose salary and benefits consume about 80% of its budget. It has the unique responsibility of “pre-funding” retiree benefits, instead of paying for current retirees with money collected from current workers – which is a matter of great annoyance to the Postal Service, but actually sounds like the way everybody else should be doing it, at least to a certain extent. (It does raise the question of “overfunding,” since not every retiree lives long enough to collect his pre-funded benefits.)
Other problems stem from rules that prevent the pseudo-private Postal Service from realizing the kind of income other businesses would, and controlling excessive costs. In an age when the Internet has taken over most urgent communications, they’re still running mail on Saturday. They can’t raise money by selling advertising on vehicles or within post offices. They’re compelled to give discounts that leave them offering many services at a loss.
Issa and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) produced the Postal Reform Act of 2011 to address these problems. Their proposals are extensively documented on the “Saving the Postal Service” website. It’s long past time to stop taking the Postal Service for granted – both the services it performs, and the way its operations are managed. There’s every reason to think reforms like those proposed by Issa and Ross can stop the financial bleeding.
Of course, the unions aren’t about to sit still while a government service is streamlined. At the same time the House Oversight web page on postal reform was going up, postal worker unions were picketing Issa’s office in California. They want to keep all those big pay and benefit plans humming along as-is, preserve every job on the bloated USPS payroll, and grab pension surpluses to keep the whole system from imploding on September 30.
Meanwhile, the default clock counts relentlessly down. Turning it back by a few months is not good enough, not any more.