The Roll Call article on the default on the retiree health benefit payment by the Postal Service explains why the House Republicans felt they did not have to bring H.R. 2309 or any other bill to prevent default prior to the August recess. The Postal Service makes “this an easy issue for Congress to ignore even as it faces a dire financial situation. The service’s website home page has no warnings about post office closings or delayed deliveries. To the contrary, an official statement issued Monday seems to downplay the severity of the problem.”
“This action will have no material effect on the operations of the Postal Service. We will fully fund our operations, including our obligation to provide universal postal services to the American people,” the Postal Service said in a statement. “We will continue to deliver the mail, pay our employees and suppliers and meet our other financial obligations. Postal Service retirees and employees will also continue to receive their health benefits.”
Congress Acted In the Past When Service Was Disrupted
So if Congress needs a real crisis to take actions to fix the Postal Service’s finances, maybe the Postal Service needs to have one. Back in 1966, the mail delivery ground to a halt in Chicago which started the ball rolling on developing the reforms that eventually became the Postal Reorganization Act. However, just like today Congress was slow to act. It took a service disruption caused by a strike by Post Office Department employees to finally get Congress to pass legislation.
Since a disruption in service was required back in 1966 and 1970 to get the President and Congress to actually deal with the Post Office Department’s problems, maybe it’s needed today in order to get Congress to act. The Postal Service had the opportunity to force action by Congress by proceeding with an announcement of the steps that it would initiate to institute a shutdown around October 15th when it runs out of cash.
A real threat of shutdown on October 15th could not be timed better to grab the attention of politicians even if the threat is made clear three months earlier. A shutdown then would mean that the candidates would find that their primary means of reaching voters was unavailable and finding volunteers or an alternative delivery service that could deliver the millions of pieces of campaign literature that normally would be mailed would be either impossible or prohibitively expensive.
Instead of rocking the political boat, the Postal Service, with a wink and nod more than likely from the Office of Personnel Management as well as the leadership in Congress, is pulling out all of the tricks in its financial toolbox to make sure that it continues to operate even if its cash position goes negative for a couple of days in October. From a political standpoint this makes sense as Postal Service management and the Board of Governors have very limited goodwill on Capitol Hill and allowing a cash shortfall to shut down the Postal Service in the middle of the political campaign would cause that goodwill to vanish. The price of conserving goodwill is high as it creates the risk of even greater financial problems early in 2013 that could require even more drastic actions than are now contemplated.
The idea that what is needed to make Congress move was something that would rock the boat suffiicently to take action, made me think of “Rockin the Boat” from Guys and Dolls