One test of whether Congress is even capable of reducing spending will be the unilateral action by the USPS. It is unusual - think about the USDA cutting its own budget all by itself. (Of course - the USDA is not independent like USPS, but stay with me.) If Congress reacts as I expect, you can narrow the already slender portion of the budget that is "cuttable" even more.
The fight between the Post Office and Congress is a very peculiar one. Normally, when the government owns some incredibly profligate business, it’s Congress which tries to impose efficiency gains and fiscal discipline, while the business insists that all of its spending is absolutely necessary and that it has already cut to the bone. In this case, however, the roles are reversed: the Post Office wants to change, and it’s Congress which is stopping it from doing so.This action could also attract some unwelcome attention to the rural/urban divide, both cuturally and economically. With less access to broadband, I expect strong arguments for continued mail delivery in the country will emerge from rural state Senators.
The latest move from the Post Office is a bold one: to abolish Saturday delivery unilaterally, starting August 1. This is a bit like Citicorp announcing that it was merging with Travelers: it’s illegal, but that’s not going to stop them, and the clear expectation is that somehow Congress will make it legal, before or shortly after it happens in reality.
As Jesse Lichtenstein details in his amazing 10,000-word Esquire story about the Post Office, the organization does actually have a detailed plan for becoming fully self-reliant over the next few years. Abolishing Saturday delivery is just one small part of that plan; all of it, by law, requires Congressional buy-in. The plan may or may not be successful, but, as they say, plan beats no plan. The big problem is simple, but huge: Congress isn’t playing along, and instead is just making matters worse, unhelpfully micromanaging everything from postage rates to delivery schedules to health-care contributions.
That’s why I love the idea of the Post Office doing something that’s clearly illegal, putting the ball squarely in Congress’s court. The idea is both delicious and dangerous: go ahead an implement the plan whether Congress likes it or not. And then dare them to bring down the hammer, or simply capitulate to the inevitable. They might not like the latter option, but the former would surely be worse for all concerned. [More]
But the monopoly has become less lucrative and that's not going to change in the future. That's squeezed the budget, squeezed postal workers' compensation packages, and is now squeezing the quality of nationwide mail service. As a country, we need to ask ourselves whether providing subsidized mail delivery to low-density areas is really a key national priority. Without the monopoly/universal service obligation, it's not as if rural dwellers wouldn't be able to get mail, it's just that they might need to pay more in recognition of the fact that it's inconvenient to provide delivery services to low-density areas. Nostalgia-drenched Paul Harvey Super Bowl ads aside, it's not the case that rural Americans are unusually hard-pressed economically or are disproportionate contributors to the economy. They are, rather, the beneficiaries of numerous explicit and implicit subsidies, of which the Postal Service's universal service obligation is one. [More]While everyone in farm country is thrilled by the now-famous commercial, frankly it makes me uncomfortable. Not only was it cloyingly flattering to farmers, it was based on a way of life that is much less common, and mostly on smaller farms. Didn't see many pictures of CAFO's or 120' boom sprayers. Or my neighbors in Naples, FL on the golf course. The commercial looks like a lead-in to Big Ag subsidy pitch to me.
I'd rather earn respect for who I really am and what I really do.