Going Postal Over Saturday Mail

In the aftermath of the Postal Service's announcement that it will end Saturday mail delivery come August, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs met Wednesday to chew over possible solutions to the financial difficulties facing the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS is financially independent of the U.S. government, and runs at an annual deficit. It suffered a $15.9 billion loss last year.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., got a bit testy over the end of Saturday mail, which he said will hurt his rural state more than some others.

"I'm one of those guys who says don't end Saturday delivery, don't shut down that mail processing center in rural Montana, and I will tell you why," said Tester. "Because it has an impact on rural Montana that you may not feel in Pittsburgh, or Miami, or LA, or any of the big cities, but we don't get mail for 5 or 6 days. So if we are going to have a mail service that works for urban America, it damn well better work for rural America too!"

"If we are going to cut the nose off our face to save the postal service, why don't we just turn the contract over to UPS or FedEx?" he later said.

In an edgy exchange with Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., questioned the legality of the USPS decision to end Saturday mail.

"You're satisfied that you have the legal authority. I'm not. And I'm not sure that this committee is. I'm not sure the Congress is," said Pryor.

Donahoe defended the decision.

"I would implore this Congress not to put any other restrictions on us from a 6 to 5 day perspective. We have lost substantial volume, we have lost 27 percent of our total volume, over 30 percent of our first class volumeā€¦. This is a responsible act," said Donahoe.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said moving to five-day delivery is an "absolute must."

"We need to give the post office the flexibility to do what they can do to prepare to offer that service in a way that puts them back in fiscal health," said Coburn.

Donahoe warned of the consequences of simply raising prices without some agency reform.

"Let us resolve the cost issues before we go around pushing prices up because there is a real demand quotient here and we do not want to sink the system just by trying to generate some mail from a price increase," said Donahoe.

Coburn and the president of the National Rural Letter Carrier's Association, Jeanette P. Dwyer, also sparred over the elimination of Saturday delivery.

Dwyer claimed that some postal workers were given "less than 24 hours notice" of the Postal Service's decision to pare down mail deliveries to five days a week.

"There are companies that will pounce on that," Dwyer said, speaking about the possibility of losing business from the delivery change, "They will be more than glad to give that one day of delivery."

Coburn retorted by asking, "If service is that important, why aren't we delivering on Sunday?"

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called on Congress to "free the hands" of the postal service. He said he supports a small premium for Saturday delivery so that "vital medicines and other packages" could still be delivered.

"In order to get a comprehensive reform, we must first realize that freeing the hands of the Postmaster General, in a way that was envisioned by their independence, is a good first step," said Issa.