Rearranging the Deck Chairs at the Postal Service

| Wed Apr. 25, 2012 11:23 PM EDT

Hooray! Today the Senate passed a bipartisan bill to save the postal service. After plowing through half a dozen separate reports about what the bill does, I've compiled a comprehensive list. Take a deep breath:

  • Allows USPS to recoup more than $11 billion that it had overpaid into one of its pension funds. 
  • Provides early retirement incentives for nearly 100,000 USPS workers.
  • Restructures payments to a health benefits fund for future retirees.
  • Frees up USPS to offer a broader range of services like delivering beer and wine for retailers.
  • Creates a USPS chief innovation officer.
  • Halts the immediate closing of up to 252 mail-processing centers and 3,700 post offices.
  • Forces USPS to preserve overnight delivery of mail sent to nearby communities.
  • Forbids USPS from closing a rural post office unless the next-nearest location is no more than 10 miles away.
  • Places a one-year moratorium on closing rural post offices and then requires the mail agency to take rural issues into special consideration.
  • Prevents USPS from cutting Saturday delivery for two years, until the agency can prove such a cut is needed as a "last resort."
  • Transitions from door-to-door delivery to curbside delivery in some areas, such as suburban neighborhoods.
  • Strengthens the appeals process for customers opposed to closing a post office.
  • Caps bonuses and pay for USPS executives.
  • Forces USPS to wait until after Election Day to close postal facilities in states that permit voting by mail.
  • Permits USPS to co-locate post offices in government-owned buildings.

Hmmm. Do you notice anything missing? Let me think.

Oh yeah: there's nothing in there about allowing the postal service to increase postal rates. This is crazy. Take a look at countries around the world that have smaller volumes of mail than us: they all charge higher postage rates. They have to. And as volumes keep declining in America, we're going to need higher rates here too. Right now, a first-class equivalent stamp runs 75¢ in Germany, 72¢ in Britain, 82¢ in France, 98¢ in Switzerland, 97¢ in Belgium, and 63¢ in the Netherlands. There's no way that we can stay at 45¢ as volumes decline and pretend that somehow everything will be hunky-dory.

But allowing the price of a stamp to go up is apparently even more of a political taboo than closing rural post offices. I suppose Democrats are afraid of annoying granny and Republicans are so intent on busting the postal carriers union that they don't like the idea of anything that brings in more revenue. We are ruled by idiots.

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