House Appropriations Bill to Continue Requiring USPS Saturday Delivery

by Patrick Brennan

From the Hill:

The new House GOP spending bill directs the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail six days a week, against the wishes of the nation’s postmaster general.

A House Appropriations aide confirmed that the spending measure, which would fund the rest of fiscal 2013 and avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month, mandated that USPS continue six-day delivery.

Congress has used the appropriations process to force USPS, which has lost billions of dollars in recent years, to continue Saturday delivery for roughly three decades.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe had announced a plan last month to get rid of Saturday delivery of letters and other pieces of first-class mail in August, which the flailing agency said would save some $2 billion a year.

But it appears the so-called mandate, a rider which has been included in congressional appropriations bills for the last 30 years or so, doesn’t necessarily force the USPS to keep up the current delivery schedule:

The House decision not to strip the six-day requirement from its continuing resolution now could lead to more debate over whether the agency can move forward with its plan. Senate Democrats are still discussing their potential plan for continuing government funding past March 27. . . .

But House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), the ranking Republican at the Homeland Security panel, have supported Donahoe’s proposal.

A spokesman for Issa told The Hill on Monday that the 30-year old appropriations rider is vague, and that Issa believes that USPS has “the authority to implement the modified Saturday delivery plan under current law and retains that authority if this provision were to be continued in its current form.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the chairman of the Homeland Security panel, said last month that he hoped to have a broad overhaul of the Postal Service completed by August, making moot the current back-and-forth over the six-day rider.

The story also quotes Democratic senator Mark Pryor’s assertion to the opposite effect, when he told the postmaster general in February that he didn’t think the USPS has the legal authority to discontinue normal Saturday delivery if Congress’s appropriations bill for this year still contains the rider. One hopes this will be a moot point, though, as the dire financial situation of the post office means that Congress at the very least should stop adding a particular codicil to the USPS’s funding forcing it to provide services it can’t afford. But obviously the pressures of rural constituencies, for both Republicans and Democrats, may make that difficult, and leave the kind of comprehensive reform Senator Carper raises in the Hill piece even less likely.

Kevin Williamson wrote about the history of postal service in the U.S. for the most recent issue of NR.