On Monday, the Senate is scheduled to take up the motion to proceed to H.R. 3076, the House-passed version of the 2022 Postal Service Reform Act. If cloture is invoked, the bill may come to the floor immediately or be held until sometime after President Biden gives the annual State of the Union Address on March 1. Either way, the Senate should give the bill the greenlight.
There have been some complaints raised by conservatives that it spends too much and that the changes to the health care provisions regarding postal workers amount to a bailout for the U.S. Postal Service. However, this is an unfair criticism. The Postal Service received some significant federal support as part of the overall COVID-19 economic relief efforts, but so did some private shipping companies who’d like to see the bill defeated. The criticism they’ve managed to generate coming from proponents of a more free-market postal service isn’t exactly unbiased — they just don’t like the competition.
What the bill does do is set the U.S. Postal Service on the path to economic stability by the end of a 10-year window. If the goal of legislators is to ensure that the affordable delivery of mail and packages six days a week to all parts of the country continues unabated, then it deserves their support.
Rather than bailing out the Postal Service, H.R. 3076 institutes reforms to prevent a future taxpayer-funded bailout. The legislation under consideration maintains the user-financed system that funds postal operations by keeping the integrated network that keeps mail and the Postal Service’s profitable and growing package delivery business together.
Most of the criticism directed at the bill involves steps to rectify action previously taken by Congress that forced the service to shoulder a larger portion of the costs not associated with its day-to-day operations. H.R. 3076 directs that the remaining 25% of postal retirees not already on Medicare be enrolled in it (postal workers pay into Medicare throughout their working lives) and that the requirement to pre-fund retiree health benefits decades in advance be repealed. It’s important to consider that no private company is required to do what the Postal Service must do, which adds significantly to the challenge of achieving profitability.
All this is consistent with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year strategic plan to make the Postal Service’s operations financially self-sustaining. This, despite what some critics have charged, is a good thing. Mr. DeJoy will also maintain the independence necessary to implement reforms leading to greater operational efficiency. Moreover, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the legislation will produce $1.5 billion in savings for U.S. taxpayers over 10 years.
H.R. 3076 isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Breaking that link between the delivery of mail and packages, the main objective of the bill’s primary critics, would make the postal service dependent on tax dollars each year, every year, for the foreseeable future. That, in turn, would strengthen the case made by people like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that the only path to profitability is to allow the Postal Service to expand into banking, the sale of stationery goods, and other activities the private sector is already handling quite well. No one wants to see that, as it would take decades, if not a century, to unwind. The bill currently before Congress prohibits the Postal Service from offering commercial nonpostal services.
The choice before Congress is not between a good bill and a bad one but between a reasonably good bill and any number of far worse alternatives. Senators should join with their House colleagues in voting for the bill on the floor. There’s always time for another bite at the apple.