Rep. Amodei and the GOP’s House of Cuts

Save the USPS

by Rich Dunn, NVRDC 2nd Vice Chair 

The US Postal Service ended 2013 with a $354 million deficit, the 18th loss out of the last 21 quarters. This is entirely due to provisions in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, enacted when Republicans controlled both houses of congress and the White House. This draconian law forces the USPS to pre-pay the next 75 years’ worth of retiree healthcare costs within a 10-year window.

Republicans know that no business can operate that way, but the intent of the law was not to “enhance” the Postal Service as the name suggests. The real purpose was to force it into bankruptcy so it could be privatized, as has already happened in a number of other countries. According to the radical ideology driving these policies, competiton will lead to lower prices and better service, but things haven’t been working out that way.

In parts of the EU where postal systems have been privatized, large corporations have come out the big winners while citizens and postal workers have come out the losers. The typical pattern is for post offices to close and be replaced by counters inside of private businesses. Mail is only delivered only two or three days a week in cities, not at all in rural areas.

For postal workers, privatization has led to lower wages and more part-time and contract jobs with little job security and few or no benefits. Meanwhile, corporate customers are getting their mail picked up more frequently, often at lower cost thanks to reduced labor costs and service cutbacks to the general public.

Of course, major shareholders and C-Suite executives of postal businesses can’t believe their luck.  Even as letter mail has seen declining volumes, there are still enormous profits to be made in the mail industry thanks to the shift from brick and mortar retail stores to online shopping.

In the United States, the privatization and downsizing process has actually been going on for some time. Since the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 went into effect, the Postal Service has paid its own way and has not received one cent in taxpayer subsidies. Now more than $12 billion of the USPS’s $65 billion annual budget goes to private companies like Pitney Bowes and United Parcel Service.

Part-time workers now make up over 20 percent of the workforce and the total number of USPS employees has been reduced by a third. Meanwhile over half of the processing plants have been closed and hours at many rural post offices have been drastically reduced, sometimes to just two or three hours a day. Collection boxes have been removed from the streets, the speed and reliability of mail delivery has gone down, more customers are being forced to pick up their mail at cluster boxes and lines at post offices are longer than ever.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, the US Postal Service made an operating profit of $765 million, a very healthy margin for any business that size. But thanks to the congressionally-imposed burden of paying its pension obligations forward, something no private business has ever been required to do, the Postal Service has to take $5 billion a year off its bottom line, resulting in paper losses quarter after quarter while it funds a $50 billion escrow account. This is 100% of the reason why the Postal Service continues to show a paper loss.

Fortunately there is hope on the horizon. On February 6th the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved a bi-partisan bill which would give the Postal Service more operating flexibility and lighten some of its workforce-related burdens. Not only would this bill put the Postal Service’s balance sheet on a more businesslike footing, it would also allow it to innovate in ways that would maximize its revenues while enhancing its range of services, such as selling advertising space on the 22 million stamps it sells every year or offering email, web, banking or parcel-wrapping services,

While Mark Amodei has opposed the closure of rural post offices in CD-2, he’s fine with reduced operating hours and advocates for “robust reforms to the USPS” because its paper deficits will “leave taxpayers footing the bill unless serious changes are made to the current system.” Translation: CD-2’s representative in congress is onboard with the ongoing Republican campaign to drive the USPS into oblivion. We need to get behind the efforts of Senate Democrats to rescue and revitalize our Postal Service, especially on behalf of rural communities that depend on it most.

Give the Post Office a Break

If the Postal Service were run like Congress, postal workers would only show up on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays — except when they were on vacation, which would be a lot.

— by Donald Kaul

Donald Kaul

The Postal Service says it’s going to stop delivering mail on Saturdays. This won’t happen until August, but the overseers of our postal workers in Congress are already swooning.

Outrageous” is the cry rolling through the halls of the Capitol.

Can’t help it, responds Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. Our postal service is hemorrhaging money, he says, and we have to cut back. Cutting Saturday delivery would save $2.7 billion a year.

I don’t know about you, but my mail consists mainly of bills, circulars, and requests for money. I can get by with five days of that instead of six.

Apparently Congress can’t. Many of our lawmakers are fuming. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it “short-sighted” and a “crippling blow.”

Whoa! Am I hearing right?

Listen, if the Postal Service were run like Congress, postal workers would only show up on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays — except when they were on vacation, which would be a lot.

Postal workers would repeatedly go overseas on fact-finding missions and come back empty-handed. Empty-headed too, for that matter.

image

They’d have to change their motto from, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” to, “Will deliver mail for campaign contributions.”

The postal system today is under siege from the Internet. The volume of mail handled by the postal service dropped 22 percent between 2007 and 2011. People complain about the Postal Service all the time. But that’s largely because people these days complain about almost everything all the time.

My own experience with the Post Office has been excellent. The clerks at the office I frequent are polite and helpful. The mail I send gets where it’s going in a reasonable time. And my postman knows my name.

The Postal Service is a strange, hybrid creature. It’s not quite private, but not completely public either. It doesn’t get any money from Congress, but Congress gets to decide how it runs its business.

It’s saddled by our lawmakers, for example, with the obligation of setting aside $5.5 billion every year for future retirees, an obligation that no other entity, public or private, endures.

Meanwhile, we have the cheapest first class rates in the English-speaking world.

A first class stamp in Canada costs 63 cents. In the United Kingdom, it’s the equivalent of 94 cents. Here, it’s 46 cents. And we complain about that, naturally.

The Postal Service is running about a $16 billion-a-year deficit these days. It has some ideas to close the gap, beyond getting rid of the pre-funding of retirement benefits and dropping Saturday delivery. It would like to reduce door-to door service in favor of centralized neighborhood mailboxes, and run its own health care system. But it can’t do all of that without Congress’s cooperation, which seems to have gone on permanent vacation.

Sometimes I think we’d be better off if we let Congress run the mail system and let postal workers run the country.

At least they’d show up for work.


OtherWords

columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. OtherWords.org

This Week in Review

By Sen. Bernie Sanders

Republican filibusters in the Senate on Monday and Tuesday blocked a bill to disclose which corporations are bankrolling which candidates and causes.  Another Republic filibuster on Thursday blocked a bill to provide tax breaks for businesses that bring jobs back to the United States from low-wage countries like China.  Years of inaction by Congress and the White House on climate change are said by scientists to have contributed to this summer’s severe drought. Federal disaster declarations were proclaimed Wednesday in parts of  eight states. And Capitol Hill gridlock could have serious consequences on another front as Congress begins to come to grips with year-end deadlines looming on taxes and spending cuts.  Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday laid out his views on how to lower deficits without hurting working families in a major speech on The Truth About Deficits.

The Truth About Deficits
Unless Congress acts by the end of this year, $1.2 trillion in mandatory cuts – half from the military, half from domestic programs – will automatically kick in under what the Washington wonks call sequestration. Unless Congress acts by the end of this year, all of the Bush-era tax cuts will expire. Unless Congress acts by the end of the year, the Social Security payroll tax holiday will end.  With all those balls up in the air, Congress is beginning to get serious about finding alternatives. In a major Senate speech on Wednesday, Sanders spelled out his priorities.  He detailed how big budget surpluses built up by President Bill Clinton were turned into big deficits under President George W. Bush. He also talked about fair ways to deal with deficits without hurting the poor, the sick and the elderly. “I hope that the road we go down in terms of deficit reduction is one that is fair to working families and the middle class, and that means asking the wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes.”

Watch Part 1 »
Watch Part 2 »

Jobs Filibuster 

Senate Republicans on Thursday killed a measure that would encourage companies to bring overseas jobs back to the United States. Sanders said the legislation would have eliminated a tax deduction that companies can use when they move jobs overseas and would create a new tax break for companies that bring jobs back to America.

Watch Current TV »

Campaign Spending Filibuster
Senate Republicans on both Monday and Tuesday blocked consideration of a bill to increase transparency in campaign spending by corporations and others.  The bill would have required disclosure of anyone who donates $10,000 or more to independent groups. Sanders urged the Senate to pass the legislation that was a response to the disastrous 5-4 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which lifted limits on campaign spending by corporations and wealthy individuals.

Watch the speech »

USPS
House leaders signaled they won’t take up a Senate-passed bill to reform the U.S. Postal Service. While press reports portray a Postal Service in dire financial straits, the fact is that revenue from selling stamps and other products exceeded the costs of delivering mail by $200 million during the first quarter of this year. Yes, the USPS needs to be modernized to meet changing needs in the era of e-mail. Sanders helped write a Senate bill that passed in April which would do that. It also would revise a law that makes the Postal Service sock billions of dollars away for future retiree health benefits in a fund that already is so flush it can provide benefits for decades to come.

Looking Ahead in Congress: Defense spending bill and Disclose Act

In the House 
The Defense Appropriations Act (HR 5856)

This bill cuts total defense spending by about $25 billion from current levels, mostly reflecting less spending in Afghanistan and Iraq. Base-level funding for DOD itself would increase slightly. The House is expected to work on this bill for the bulk of the week with a vote on Friday.

The Sequestration Transparency Act (HR 5872)
House Republicans will bring this bill to the Floor in the middle of the week, in an effort to require the Administration to report on how it proposes to slash more than $100 billion in spending in 2013. That cut is required under the so-called “Sequester,” which Congress approved last year as a way of forcing $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. House Republicans have already approved a bill that would alter the Sequester by avoiding Defense Department cuts, and continue to pressure the Obama administration to support similar alterations.

Several other bills will also be considered in the House this week:


HR 6018
To authorize appropriations for the Department of State for fiscal year 2013.

The Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act (S 1959)
Requires a report on the designation of the Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization.

The Insular Areas Act (S 2009)
Improves the administration of programs in the insular areas.

S 2039
To allow a State or local government to construct levees on certain properties otherwise designated as open space lands.

The US-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act (S 2165)
Enhances strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel.

In the Senate 
The DISCLOSE Act (S 3369)
This is the second Democratic bill meant to address the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. That ruling said the government cannot limit campaign spending by corporations, unions and other groups. (See other bills related to Citizens United.)
The bill would require these groups to report aggregate campaign spending of $10,000 to the government. In 2010, Democrats sought to require reporting of all spending above $600, but their bill failed to move in the Senate. The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on the new bill on Monday.

Bill with High Volume Activity on POPVOX 
Most Discussed Bill Last Week: The Repeal of Obamacare Act (HR 6079)
The House approved this bill 244-185 last week, with the help of five Democrats. But as expected, the bill is already “last week’s news,” as the Senate is not expected to consider it at all. Thousands of POPVOX users had opinions of the bill to repeal the 2010 healthcare law, making it the most-discussed bill on the site last week. More than 4,500 people weighed in, and were in favor of the bill by a more than 10-1 margin.

The 21st Century Postal Service Act (S 1789)
This bill, #9 on POPVOX, would give the U.S. Postal Service the flexibility to restructure its finances to help it stop losing millions of dollars each day. The Senate passed it in April. The House has indicated it is unlikely to move any related legislation before the August recess. House Republicans oppose the Senate bill as something that would increase the deficit further, and favor proposals to let the USPS close offices that are not profitable. Without movement by Congress, some version of the House GOP plan will likely come to pass anyway, as the USPS has said it will soon need to begin shuttering offices.

The Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act (S 2237)
This bill, number 11 on POPVOX, would give companies a tax credit of up to $500,000, but it stalled in the Senate last week, as Republican opposition blocked it in a procedural vote.

Link to POPVOX’s Weekly Update online.