Why Congress Can’t Get It Done

September 11, 2014

Share this article

(This article appears in the September/October 2014 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Why can’t Congress get anything done on postal reform? It seems I’m asked that question all the time – in conversations at conferences and conventions, in letters, phone calls and email correspondence.

In part, the answer is a lack of understanding by members of Congress about how the USPS works and how much authority the legislature has ceded to the Postmaster General. He has slowed down America’s mail and entered into “partnerships” with private industry that undermine the public Postal Service without congressional consent.

However, a majority of the House and Senate know that the legislative requirement that the USPS – and the USPS alone – pre-fund retiree healthcare benefits and the postage rate cap are responsible for the Postal Service’s red ink. Inherently they also realize that additional services and faster mail delivery are the way to compete and secure revenues – not closures, consolidations and mail slowdowns.

What’s the Holdup?

So, what is the holdup on fixing and modernizing the USPS? The answer is twofold.

First, the USPS (and before that the Post Office Department) has historically enjoyed bipartisan support as an essential part of American infrastructure. It is also the government agency with the highest approval rating.

That bipartisan foundation has eroded over the last decade or so. The USPS has fallen victim to congressionally-mandated cuts. I believe Congress’ failure to fix this obvious problem has been driven by an accounting quirk that honestly boggles the mind: Even though the USPS is self-funded, is off the federal budget, and receives effectively zero tax dollars, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “scores” cuts to the USPS as a savings on the federal budget that can be used to balance the books or to spend elsewhere.

Now you understand why a reduction to five-day mail delivery has been in the White House Budget since 2011 and why former Majority Leader Eric Cantor attempted to “pay” for the Highway Trust Fund with “savings” from eliminating Saturday mail delivery. Even though all involved know that these actions will not generate one dime to pay for roads or balance the budget, the CBO tells them it does.

An Ideological Shift

Second, over this same time period many members of Congress have gotten elected on a platform of essentially “all government is bad and less government is always better.” This has caused an ideological shift in the House that has targeted all federal employees, including postal workers.

Members of Congress know that no tax dollars are spent on postal workers. They also know that slowing down the mail damages infrastructure and hurts job growth. However, they are willing to believe the USPS, as an institution of the federal government, is destined to fail – that it is incapable of modernizing and thriving. Many of these recently elected members of Congress believe that private industry can do anything and everything better than a government agency.

Therefore, when common sense postal reform legislation with measures that would halt the crippling pre-funding requirement, protect universal, high-quality service and use accurate data when calculating postal retirement payments is introduced, it has to fight the headwinds of misleading accounting and the stigma of potentially helping government employees.

There is hope, however. The APWU will not rest until quality postal legislation is passed by Congress. We will pursue every available legislative option to stop Postmaster General Donahoe’s flawed scheme of closures, consolidations and privatization. We will fight to put “service” back into the Postal Service. If we unite behind these efforts, we cannot fail and we will surely succeed.

Stay in touch with your union

Subscribe to receive important information from your union.