The U.S. Postal Service's financial problems have, of course, been big news lately, but they should hardly be a surprise.
It didn't take a genius to see this coming; here's what appeared in Dead Tree Edition almost two years ago:
"Although the Postal Service is on track to become insolvent within a couple of years, Congress has shown no appetite for wrestling with the problems that vex the USPS. The Postal Service's requests to stem the financial tide -- by eliminating Saturday delivery and eliminating the prepaid retiree-benefit requirement, for example -- will inevitably lead to a Congressional discussion of whether postal rates should be raised."
USPS is still trying to eliminate Saturday delivery and the prepaid retiree benefits. And recent Obama Administration support for a one-time higher-than-inflation-rate increase in postal rates (See Obama Supports Postage Increase: Is He Dissing the Print Industry?) means Congress is indeed likely to discuss raising postal rates.
That article from two years ago, by the way, was about the idea of letting the Postal Service conduct national lotteries as a profit-making venture. ("Look, Marge, I won a hundred Forever Stamps!") I haven't seen that idea come up in recent Congressional discussions. But it just might.
One good thing about all the political and mainstream-media attention being paid to the Postal Service's finances is that it's finally bringing to light how Congress has made a mess of the agency's finances.
Perhaps the best "ah-hah" MSM commentary was published yesterday by Bob Sullivan, a consumer-affairs reporter for MSNBC, in explaining that USPS is not looking for a bailout:
"In fact, it's the Postal Service that’s currently bailing out the U.S. government. Politicians have been raiding Postal Service revenues for years, using them to make the federal deficit appear smaller than it really is. The fiscal gyrations are so twisted that the Postal Service is right now forced to pre-pay health care benefits for employees the agency hasn't even hired yet — in fact, for many future employees who haven't even been born yet — all to artificially shrink the federal deficit. It's these crushing accounting tricks, not the cost of delivering mail, that has pushed this 200-year-old institution to the brink."
By the way, that's not much different -- but, frankly, better written -- than what Dead Tree Edition published in September 2009:
"The billions of dollars the Postal Service pre-pays every year into a retirement-benefits fund have nothing to do with retirees and everything to do with making the federal deficit look smaller. Congress is playing an accounting shell game, with the cost of the payments being passed along to mailers in the form of higher rates. That has made mailed products increasingly uncompetitive with such electronic substitutes as email and Web sites, leading to volume decreases and excess capacity in the postal system."
Related articles: How Congress Bankrupted the Postal Service in 3 Easy Steps and How USPS Could Bypass Congress on Saturday Delivery.