Financially, the U.S. Postal Service has been performing a bit better than expected lately. Politically, that could be bad news for the mail carrier.
Why? Because USPS leaders have banked on a sense of crisis to rouse Congress to agree to some heavy-duty service cuts. The faintest glimmer of hope may be all it takes to persuade lawmakers to let the Postal Service instead muddle through until after the November elections–if not longer.
“Congress is never going to really do something final until it knows the clock has run out, the money has run out, it’s got no choice,” said Gene Del Polito, president of the Association for Postal Commerce.
That wasn’t quite the message Postmaster General Pat Donahoe conveyed this past weekend in an appearance on the C-Span cable TV show, “Newsmakers.” True, Donahoe hammered home the importance of immediate legislative action to fix the USPS’ crumbling finances. But he acknowledged that revenues are running slightly ahead of projections, while continued cost-cutting is also helping the bottom line. As a result, the Postal Service’s cash-flow situation “is OK through the fall and into probably late next year,” he said.
Yowza! So what’s everyone so worried about?
Of course, that’s assuming the Postal Service skips about $11 billion in legally required payments into a retiree health care fund due by the end of September. But lawmakers will probably be happy to push back those deadlines indefinitely. And even though the Senate last month passed postal overhaul legislation at the (for the Senate) warp speed of two days, the measure got a ice-cold reception from House leaders, who have nonetheless not moved ahead with their own, very different, bill.
Senators are meanwhile intent on dissuading the Postal Service from proceeding with any post office or mail processing plant closures after a self-imposed moratorium expires May 15. On that score, Donahoe didn’t back down, but he also said the 15th was never intended to be a “shutdown date.” “Any changes that we make will be incremental over the course of the summer,” he said. After August, the Postal Service plans on another breather–this one for the elections–until year’s end.
The USPS Board of Governors holds a public meeting tomorrow morning; expect there to be some discussion of what happens next. Surprisingly, the Postal Service’s second-quarter financial results–covering the period from January through March–aren’t on the agenda. Those figures aren’t due out until next Thursday, May 10.