Liberals seemed to think I was overly naïve in failing to see the obvious Republican plot to destroy the U.S. Postal Service and let the GOP's cronies loot what’s left. Several conservatives objected to Dead Tree Edition’s supposed liberal bias and questioned why links to this "partisan" article showed up in industry newsletters and LinkedIn groups.
I have a confession to make: Yes, I lean Democratic – whenever I hear Republican politicians yammering. And I start thinking Republican when the Dems start blowing their own hot air. As long as the two parties focus on name calling and sound bites rather than actual solutions, I have no qualms about ridiculing both sides of the aisle.
Anyway, amidst all the vitriol and conspiracy theories, seven additional interesting and sometimes insightful theories emerged to explain the GOP's inaction on the growing postal crisis:
- Why bail out Obama?: If a real USPS crisis – like mail not getting delivered or people not getting paid – occurs before the election, who will get blamed? Sure, the thinking goes, House Republicans might take some heat for not bringing any bills to a vote. But the big issue would be the Obama Administration’s failure to provide leadership on a crisis that should have caught no one by surprise.
- All pain, no gain: A vote for USPS cost cutting three months before re-election time? Forget about it. Many Congressmen probably had nightmares about their opponents holding media events at closed post offices or being cheered at rallies of laid-off postal workers. They know that those of us who to preserve the Postal Service by enabling it to balance its budget are poorly organized and will have little impact on this fall’s elections.
- No consensus: The Republican majority in the House is pretty slim. With some members insisting on radical reform and others wanting not-in-my-district carve-outs (“You can’t close any rural post offices.”), getting any bill through the House would be challenging. And anything that did get through would probably die in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
- Let it fail: Many conservatives view the Postal Service’s structure as fundamentally flawed, so why bother with Band-Aids when what’s needed are amputations? Compromise, in this view, only delays the inevitable; addressing USPS’s overpayments into pension and retiree-benefits funds (See Is the Postal Service Really Broke?) at this point would only give Congress more excuses not to wrestle with other cost issues. As USPS gets closer to running out of cash, interest in cost cutting seems to grow. But exactly what do these people hope will occur when USPS can no longer pay bills or cover payroll? Bankruptcy? Furloughs? Drastic cuts that Congress has not authorized?
- The real GOP plan is privatization: This more extreme version of “Let it fail” was put forth by both conservatives and liberals, with different slants of course. Right-wingers tout the efficiencies that come with private ownership (and presumably the lack of Congressional micromanaging as well) as the answer to our nation’s mail-delivery system. Lefties claim Republicans are “evil bloodsuckers” who want to turn the Postal Service over to their cronies so they can raid its pension funds and sell off its valuabe real estate. (Anyone in the market for 100 or so vacant processing and distribution centers?) I missed the logic of both a liberal's claim that the GOP would sell USPS to Wal-Mart (as if Wal-Mart wants to get into the mail business) and a conservative's proposal to turn each post office into a standalone business (If each postal facility is a separate business, which one would get the revenue from a mail piece – the one where the mail is entered, the one where it’s sorted, or the one handling delivery?).
- If you can’t retire them, scare them off: Any serious cost cutting at the Postal Service means reducing the workforce, which accounts for nearly 80% of the agency’s costs. But no-layoff clauses, poor job prospects on the outside, and a fouled-up pension-payments process (See USPS Retirement Mess: A Major Barrier To Downsizing.) have led to extremely low turnover. Perhaps some Republicans hope USPS's outlook will get bad enough to scare employees into bailing out before their retirement benefits get swallowed up.
- Who cares? A knowledgeable Beltway insider chided me for thinking that Congress members care as much about fixing the Postal Service as do us folks in mail-dependent industries: “From the broader standpoint of Congress, this simply … isn’t important enough to get worked up about.” I fear he is correct.