U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe's historic decision to end Saturday mail delivery drew mixed reaction on Capitol Hill — and outright anger from the letter carriers union, which called for his resignation.
Mr. Donahoe, a 37-year veteran of the Postal Service who began his career as a clerk, made the announcement at a news conference after privately briefing key union leaders and members of Congress.
He said the $2 billion per year that would be saved was too much to ignore at a time when the nation's mail service finds itself in an unprecedented financial crisis.
Mr. Donahoe said U.S. Postal Service lawyers advised him that they thought the move was legal under a continuing resolution authorized by Congress set to expire in about six weeks. Still, he said he anticipates challenges to the move, which would not affect Saturday package delivery.
"I think we can work very positively with Congress," he said.
Lawmakers expressed mixed reactions while union leaders criticized the proposal, which would result in about 22,500 job losses — though Mr. Donahoe said he expects to avoid layoffs through attrition and by offering buyouts.
Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, called the move irresponsible, while Rep. Karen Bass, California Democrat, the daughter of a letter carrier, said it was disappointing but a reminder of the need for lawmakers to ease a costly mandate that the Postal Service pre-fund pension benefits.
In a joint statement, Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, backed the move as "common-sense reform."
"In his recent inaugural address, President Obama spoke about the need to find real solutions to our nation's problems," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. "Supporting the U.S. Postal Service's plan to move forward with 5-day mail delivery is one such solution worthy of bipartisan support."
But union leaders weren't happy.
Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said cutting Saturday delivery would only deepen the financial woes at the Postal Service, which lost more than $15 billion last year.
"USPS executives cannot save the Postal Service by tearing it apart," Mr. Guffey said. "These across the board cutbacks will weaken the nation's mail system and put it on a path to privatization."
The National Association of Letter Carriers not only opposed the move but called for the resignation of Mr. Donahoe, saying the elimination of Saturday delivery "flouts the will of Congress."
"We call for the immediate removal of the postmaster general, who has lost the confidence of the men and women who deliver for America every day," the union said in a statement.
Mr. Donahoe acknowledged that the decision to cut Saturday mail ultimately could be challenged in Congress.
"I can't speak for Congress," he told reporters. "It's my job to lay out a good argument, a common-sense approach on why we should make this move. The finances dictate it."
He said polling data shows most Americans support the move, adding that postal officials can't ignore the fact more and more people pay bills online rather than through the mail.
"We cannot put our head in the sand and say, 'Let's hope this problem goes away,' " he said. "Hope is not a strategy."
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