Congress needs to work together to fix the U.S. Postal Service. The reasons are clear: its finances are in dire straits and getting worse. Every month brings a new tale of fiscal woe: red ink; declining First Class mail; a maxed-out line of federal credit; and tens of billions of dollars in retiree health care liabilities.
With our nation’s growing fiscal challenges, we can’t afford another taxpayer bailout. But the American people and millions of jobs depend on and need a healthy and robust Postal Service.
For years, the Postal Service has worked hard to compete in the age of the Internet – keeping prices as low as possible, reducing its fixed costs, and innovating where it can. Its workforce has been reduced through attrition from 788,000 to 491,000 since 2000. Nearly 300 mail processing facilities have been closed since 2006, cutting the number of such facilities in half. Nearly 16,000 post offices have had their operating hours cut. But the Postal Service can only do so much without new authorities from Congress, and without hurting service quality.
Cutting costs is only the beginning, and can’t be the only solution. The Postal Service needs to grow through innovation. In order to keep up with the billions of pieces of mail, catalogs, magazines, and packages Americans send and receive, it needs Congress to act.
With the clock running down on the 113th Congress, the Postal Service announced plans to shutter 82 mail processing plants in 39 states in 2015. In response, some of our colleagues called for blocking those closures. Unfortunately, piecemeal measures without offering the Postal Service other alternatives would be costly and ensure that the Postal Service and the customers who rely on it continue to twist in the wind, facing an uncertain future.
To those looking for a way to prevent future plant closures and other cuts, we believe there is a better solution.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan majority of senators on the committee we lead approved legislation that fixes this problem and gives the Postal Service the tools it needs to survive and prosper in the years to come. It enables the Postal Service to move beyond the legislative and financial constraints that bind it to old ways of operating and allows it to begin embracing a culture of innovation and growth.
The plan addresses longstanding health care and pension issues that have cost the Postal Service billions. For example, the Postal Service would no longer be required to overpay for its employees’ retirement pensions and will be refunded billions it overpaid in the past. The Postal Service pays more money into Medicare than any other employer in America, but its retirees don’t take full advantage of it. Our legislation fixes that.
Our proposal provides the Postal Service greater flexibility to set prices for its products, something essential for any business. It also allows the Postal Service to innovate and explore ways to make money in the digital age by adapting its unique 200-year-old distribution network – the only network that delivers to virtually every mailbox in America five or six days a week. That means negotiating with its competitors to reach new customers and developing new services, like delivery of wine, beer and spirits.
Action now is critical so the Postal Service can return to profitability, repay the billions it owes to the U.S. Treasury and significantly reduce its retiree health care liabilities.
As an added benefit, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that our bill saves the federal government nearly $17 billion over 10 years.
What doesn’t it do? It doesn’t leave the Postal Service forced to close rural post offices or cut service to the bone. It doesn’t allow the Postal Service to eliminate Saturday service immediately or allow for any further closures of mail processing centers for at least two years if the Postal Service returns to profitability.
No legislation is perfect, but we think it’s a far better alternative to kicking the can down the road. Let’s join forces and fix the Postal Service for the long haul. After all, isn’t that what voters sent us to Congress to do?
Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) are the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.