Members of Congress were quick to weigh in on the U.S. Postal Service’s downsizing plans Thursday. And for the most part, they were not happy.
“This plan makes no sense at all and should be abandoned,” argued Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, where a mail processing plant is slated to close.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe is “barreling ahead to implement drastic cost-cutting measures” before regulators give their views, objected Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, which would lose two of its three plants to those measures.
The Postal Service “should focus on common sense solutions that improve its fiscal solvency” instead of putting eight Ohio facilities out of business, said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
The fallout presumably came as no surprise to Donahoe. Within the next 18 months, the Postal Service wants to close or consolidate more than 220 processing plants at a cost of 35,000 jobs, most of them with benefits and relatively decent pay. At least in the agency’s recent history, this is unprecedented. Who would be happy?
The closest thing to a thumbs-up may have come from Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Dennis Ross, R-Fla., and Justin Amash, R-Mich.
“Rightsizing is essential to solving the Postal Service’s financial crisis,” the three said in a joint statement. “If USPS leadership actually goes through with a realignment, instead of caving to political pressure again, it will be an acknowledgment that no budget gimmick is going to restore the Postal Service to solvency. Keeping your head in the sand and hoping for a taxpayer bailout is simply irresponsible.”
If the preponderance of congressional boos was predictable, the more intriguing question is what happens next. The Postal Service has agreed to hold off on any closings until mid-May. Lieberman now wants it to wait until the Postal Regulatory Commission delivers a legally required advisory opinion on proposed changes to first-class mail delivery standards linked to the downsizing. The four-member commission has not said exactly when that opinion is coming, but it won’t be before late July at the earliest.
At the same time, the Postal Service’s financial woes are mounting. Perhaps not coincidentally, the mail carrier released an updated forecast last week that predicted tens of billions of dollars in new losses during the next few years if nothing changes. The plant closings announced Thursday are part of a much larger stop-the-bleeding strategy that USPS leaders say must be accepted whole if the agency is to start making money again. But lawmakers generally have no stomach for inflicting pain on constituents, particularly in an election year. With passage of the 1971 Postal Reorganization Act, Congress decided that the Postal Service should ultimately become a self-supporting entity. More than 40 years later, that decision could be in line for its biggest test.