So, how big a deal is the U.S. Postal Service’s freeze on closings of post offices and mail processing plants?
Less than you might think, perhaps.
No doubt, today’s abruptly announced moratorium was made under mounting political pressure from Capitol Hill Democrats. “Cave-in” was how Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Dennis Ross, R-Fla., described it in a news release.
But the long-term consequences for the Postal Service’s downsizing plans won’t necessarily be that pronounced. Last week, for example, a USPS spokeswoman told Federal Times that processing plant closings would start in April at the earliest. The five-month freeze would push that timeframe back only until May. As American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey stressed on the union’s web site, the freeze “is a temporary reprieve.”
And by getting in the way of the Postal Service’s cost-cutting agenda, members of Congress have put themselves on the line with an implied promise to come up with a better alternative. Or, to quote from a letter signed by 20 senators last week: “We believe it is very important to give Congress the opportunity to reform the Postal Service in a way that protects universal service while ensuring its financial viability for decades to come.”
But to state the obvious (a favorite pastime here in the nation’s capital), lawmakers have already had that opportunity and thus far failed to deliver. Don’t be too hard on them: Fixing an organization that’s losing almost $100 million per week would tax the savviest turnaround artist.
For the APWU and other postal unions, the answer is to let the Postal Service tap into as much as $75 billion in purported pension fund overpayments. Even when you discount the fact that the Government Accountability Office recently dismissed the idea that any erroneous overpayments occurred, a refund is not in the cards as long as Republicans control the House, which they will for at least another year. Short of some miraculously lucrative new business lines or Americans’ mass rediscovery of the continuing relevance of snail mail, it’s hard to imagine postal revenues rebounding any time soon.
Lawmakers may have thus put themselves in a box. If they can’t find out a way by May, they could have to concede that the Postal Service’s route—however distasteful for thousands of communities and USPS employees—is basically the only one they have.