Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Senators Urge Postal Service To Delay Closings

Slash your budget, but don’t close any post offices. That’s the impossible message the United States Senate is sending to the United States Postal Service this week. Las week the Senate passed a bill revamping the postal service, and structuring financial reform of the quasi-governmental corporation. However, significant differences between the Senate passed measure and the House version still awaiting a floor vote could well delay any final legislative action well beyond May 15. That’s the date USPS proposes to resume closure of various post offices and mail distribution centers around the country under the ambitious USPS $22 billion cost cutting plan.

Four Senators have written USPS Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe asking USPS to hold off on any such closings until Congress can act – or putting it more bluntly – get its act together. “We believe an attempt to proceed with the planned closures to get ‘in under the wire’ while legislation to the contrary is being considered would be counterproductive and would violate the clear intent of the Senate,” according to the letter signed by Senators Scott Brown, Thomas Carper, Susan Collins and Joseph Lieberman. However, neither that letter nor the Senate bill explains how USPS is to achieve the needed cost savings in the absence of the proposed post office and mail center closings.

It’s a typical Congressional knee jerk reaction to every budget crisis: “Slash your expenses, Mr. Bureaucrat, but don’t cut jobs or services in my district.” Trouble is, even the dimmest bulb in the Capitol chandelier knows that is an impossible task. Welcome to Wonderland, Alice!

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, one of the sponsors of the Senate passed bill which prohibits the planned closures, says his proposal will “remove some of the immediate financial pressure on the Postal Service” while “avoiding extreme changes that could further destabilize USPS.” What he means is that Congress now realizes it made a mistake in requiring USPS to prefund retired postal employee health benefits, since doing so has publicized one of the all time Ponzi scheme frauds of government accounting: the government promises expansive and expensive pensions and health benefits to retiring employees without putting away a dime to pay for them, or even reflecting the obligations on the government’s books.

This new Congressional requirement has meant USPS needed to put $21 billion in the bank over the last five years, resulting in USPS deficits skyrocketing from a mere $4 billion over that period to a total of $25 billion. Ouch! Think of it: every time you send an E-mail rather than a letter, you take away the money to pay for a few seconds of retired postal worker health benefits.

Postal employee unions are busy in the halls of the Capitol lobbying hard against both the House and Senate bills and the USPS austerity plan. All three would mean dramatic job losses and service cuts. The USPS proposal to drop Saturday mail deliveries would slash 80,000 jobs, at an annual savings of $2.7 billion. The unions are upset, and Congress wants to put off Saturday delivery cuts for at least 2 years. Nobody in the House or Senate has a plan to cover the $5.4 billion loss that would result, however.

Speaking about the pending legislative measures, National Postal Mail Handlers Union President John Hegarty says, “We’re not endorsing it whole-heartedly. We’ve come out in cautious support, recognizing there are still some improvements that need to be made.” Meaning: cut fewer jobs, bank more money for retirees. National Association of Letter Carriers Chief of Staff James Sauber is more sanguine: “We’re sort of disappointed … It’s sort of a missed opportunity, sort of tinkering around the edges.” American Postal Workers Union Executive Vice President Greg Bell characterizes the Senate measure like this, “It’s an improvement over the original bill, but we still have some issues.”

Among the issues Bell cites are proposals to cut compensation for work related injuries to federal employees, and to permit USPS to withdraw from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and set up a less expensive benefit for postal workers. Apparently the only thing most of the folks affected can agree on: cutting back compensation to upper level managers in the USPS, who now make considerably more than department secretaries in the Obama Cabinet.
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