Monday, October 10, 2011

Dismantling the Postal Service

 In the wee morning hours of December 8, 2006, the last day of the lame duck Session, the Senate concluded its legislative business with ‘unanimous consent’ adoption of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA - HR 6407) without any debate or roll call vote. 

At that time, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me) enthusiastically announced ‘great news for the U.S. economy” with adoption of “landmark legislation” which had consumed an astonishing 12 years of negotiations.  Collins, senior Republican on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and recipient of $35,000 from UPS, praised the PAEA as ‘minimizing the risk of significant taxpayer bailout” for the Postal Service ‘convinced that the PAEA puts the postal service on sound financial footing for years to come.”

With a $900 billion mail-related industry of magazines, mail-order and catalogues to protect, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del) concurred in adulation that the Act would assure continued ‘universal delivery – six days a week with mail delivery to one million new customers each year.”    

Adopted by the House of Representatives 24 hours earlier on a bipartisan voice vote, the Act was touted by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) as ‘assuring long term viability of the postal service’ that will ‘satisfy the concerns of postal service employees.’   Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill), now Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, was in the Speaker’s Chair and about to gavel the Act “adopted” when Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind) requested the ayes and nays.  LaHood determined an ‘insufficient number present’ and announced the Act as “passed’.   Apparently neither Maloney, Collins, Carper nor any other Member of Congress bothered to read their mail or they would have known of the vehement opposition by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) which fully understood the Act’s long term implications.

Part of the Game in Congress is that whenever a  ‘sensitive’ legislative matter is on the House or Senate Floor, a roll call vote can be avoided so that no one will ever be held directly accountable – except every once in a while, legislative gimmicks have a way of boomeranging back on the perpetrators.  

Fast forward to Summer 2011 when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) prematurely adjourned the Senate leaving almost 4,000 FAA employees confused, temporarily unemployed and “furloughed without pay” for two weeks due to a Republican-led dispute over airport construction funds.  With today’s current Session of Congress winding down, another last minute Congressionally-caused debacle is looming with the potential closure of 3,600 mostly rural post offices and slashing 120,000 postal worker jobs by the end of the year.

Even with a reduction of 130,000 postal employees in the last three years, Post Office critics like Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cal), Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the richest Member of Congress, points to an impending postal collapse with a shortfall of $2.2 billion in the first quarter of 2011, an $8.5 billion net loss in 2010 and another $3.8 billion in 2009.    

Facing its gravest financial crisis in its 236 year history since being enshrined in Article 1, Section 8  of the U.S. Constitution as an essential public service provided by Government and with the polymath Benjamin Franklin as its first Postmaster-General, the bitter truth is that adoption of PAEA imposes a ridiculously impossible financial burden on an already over-worked, understaffed Federal agency. 

The Act requires that a $5.8 billion check be written each Sept. 30th to the U.S. Treasury for the next ten years to be deposited into a prepaid health fund for future retirees 75 years in advance!  No other Federal agency has such a requirement and without this onerous health fund obligation, the USPS would have been a profit-making agency for the last four years. 

Last January, Congress was warned that by meeting its $5 billion annual encumbrance, the Postal Service was close to default, that Saturday service might be cut and massive employee layoffs were on the horizon.   Meanwhile, the corporate media continues to repeat the Republican mantra that mismanagement and fiscal insolvency are the causes for the potential shutdown.

In an effort to adjust the 2006 defect, the USPS Pension Obligation , Recalculation and Restoration Act (HR 1351) sponsored by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Ma) with 225 co-sponsors would restore up to $50 billion of pension  over-payments to the Postal Service to cover the financial burden and protect the APWU’s collective bargaining rights.  Not to be outdone,  Rep. Issa has countered with the Postal Reform Act (HR 2309) which is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to privatize the Postal  Service and break up the APWU.   The National League of Postmasters opposes Issa’s bill as not addressing the issue of pension obligations and the Union calls it a ‘ruthless assault’ on the postal service.  While making political hay over Obama’s inability to create jobs, Republicans give no second thought to adding thousands of union workers to the unemployment rolls.

In addition, survival of the postal service was dealt another blow with the Sept. 14th announcement of the potential closing of 255 mail processing centers around the country that could layoff up to 35,000 employees.   The Federal Register Notice (30 CFR Part 121)  is on a ‘fast track’  with public comments due by October 21st.

At stake is nothing less than the on-going Republican-inspired piece-by-piece dismantling of the Federal Government and its agencies that provide necessary public functions as well as the dissolution of a labor union of middle class workers with potential replacement by desperate unemployed citizens willing to accept lowered wages and reduced benefits.    

Once considered defenders of American workers,  it remains to be seen if the Democrats, more recently exemplars of ineptitude and political cowardice (most notably in the Senate), will atone for their earlier negligence in allowing PAEA to sail through Congress unscathed and without objection.    

If the PAEA is the best our Electeds can accomplish after 12 years of  a ‘bipartisanship’ indicative of the collusion between two impoverished political institutions seeking an insipid ideal that ultimately serves no useful public purpose, the American taxpayer is not getting their dime’s worth.