In Congress lies the problem

In Congress lies the problem

The United States Postal Service can’t win, because Congress won’t let it.

Congress requires the postal service to provide door-to-door mail service to every municipality from Washington, D.C., to East Overshoe, Alaska — but won’t let it set prices that will cover the costs of the huge workforce and gigantic truck fleet it takes to deliver that service.

Congress requires the postal service to deliver mail six days a week, and then demands that it somehow break even.

Congress requires the postal service to prepay health-care costs decades into the future — something no private business has to do — and then expects it to compete with package-delivery specialists UPS and FedEx.

But whenever the service proposes closing some corn-crib post office that does hardly any business and should have been shuttered decades ago, there’s a flurry of objections, and the answer is no.

And when, with few options left, the USPS proposes a drastic move such as shutting down the distribution centers in Wallingford and Stamford, in a desperate attempt to somehow make ends meet, Congress still has the final say.

No one around here wants to see the Wallingford center close — after all, hundreds of jobs may be at stake, so we’re glad that people are up in arms and rallying to save it. Connecticut’s Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and 46 other U.S. senators are seeking a one-year moratorium on job cuts that would give Congress time to pass legislation that might prevent the consolidation of these and other postal distribution centers around the country.

Fine, but that could be just another stopgap measure. Congress needs to take action that will actually solve the problem.

If the 2006 measure requiring health-care costs to be prepaid for future employees not yet born is strangling the postal service, then let Congress repeal it. And while they’re at it, let them reconsider the Postal Reorganization Act of 1971, the landmark law that replaced the Post Office Department — which was fully funded by the federal government to provide what had been considered a necessary service since the days of Benjamin Franklin — with a U.S. Postal Service that was expected to somehow pay its own way but was never given the necessary tools to do so.

Complicating the situation, of course, is the fact that the recession has hurt USPS volume, and the growth of electronic mail has hurt it even more. Package delivery may be a growth area — after all, there are three major carriers vying with the USPS for this business — but we notice that no one is trying to take on letter delivery.

Either mail delivery is an essential service that should be funded by government, or the postal service should be set free to do business any way it can. Instead, Congress keeps the USPS in a gray area where it can’t hope to succeed.

It’s no longer rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night that stands in the postman’s way. It’s Congress.


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