As AOL used to say, "You've got mail!" But maybe not on Saturdays if the mail you are looking for is being delivered by the much-maligned "snail mail" of the United States Postal Service.
On Wednesday, the USPS announced Saturday delivery of letters would be eliminated by August in order to save $2 billion annually. The Postal Service has been struggling financially for a long time, as we all know, so this sort of cutback is hardly surprising. As the latest reduction in service is discussed and debated, though, it is worth remembering that the Postal Service's troubles are not entirely a result of the historic shift in how Americans communicate with one another.
Sure, most people have not mailed a real letter for months, if not years, and prefer to send messages via email or text. And, yes, companies such as UPS and FedEx have stolen the more lucrative shares of the market from the venerable old post office. But the USPS might be in less dire straits if Republicans in Congress were not trying to kill it outright.
In 2006, the GOP Congress passed a bill that required the Postal Service to fully fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years and to accomplish this within a 10-year period. Republicans are always insisting that the USPS be run like a good capitalist enterprise, but few, if any, private businesses could bear the burden of funding three-quarters of a century of retired employees' medical costs over just one decade.
In truth, the Republicans who crafted the bill were not interested in turning the Postal Service into a better business; they were seeking to run the post office out of business. With all those unionized employees working for a quasi-governmental operation that competes with private sector enterprises, the Postal Service is an affront to those who hate government, hate unions and hate to think that there is anything that government can do better than the private sector. The post office may be mandated by the United States Constitution, as clearly as freedom of religion or the right to bear arms, but it does not fit with modern Republican dogma and, therefore, has been targeted for extinction.
About the only thing that has saved the Postal Service is the fact that nobody else wants to serve rural areas. No one but the dutiful mail carriers deliver to America's remote addresses because it is a money-losing proposition. The congressmen and senators who represent those rural constituents have fought against further cuts and may well block the elimination of Saturday delivery, as they have in the past.
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who represents a lot of folks scattered across the hills and hollows of Vermont, decried the plan to cut Saturday delivery. "The postmaster general cannot save the Postal Service by ending one of its major competitive advantages," Sanders said on Wednesday. "Cutting six-day delivery is not a viable plan for the future. It will lead to a death spiral that will harm rural America while doing very little to improve the financial condition of the Postal Service."
Sanders went on to lay blame for the Postal Service financial crisis squarely on the GOP. He urged Republican House leaders to work with Democrats on a plan to save the post office, not close its doors, but Speaker of the House John Boehner and his compatriots may not be interested. Saving the Postal Service and the jobs of the 230,000 middle-class Americans who work at delivering the mail does not fit into their vision of a leaner and much meaner economy.