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By Bob King
They say the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is broke. But just six years ago, it generated a small profit, paid for itself and wasn't a burden to taxpayers.
In fact, contrary to right-wing rhetoric, the USPS hasn't taken a dime from taxpayers since 1971. So what happened?
You could blame the rise of the Internet and decline in regular mail volume for wiping out their traditional revenue model. You could blame politics and yet another attempt by extremist Republicans to kill public sector unions, and outsource the entire mail industry to their contributors.
Yet the biggest blame goes to Republicans who manufactured the crisis.
In late 2006 under President George W. Bush, a lame duck session of Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which forced the postal service to pre-fund its retiree health benefit obligations 75 years into the future — to pay for the health care benefits of current postal workers and those who will retire in the next 75 years.
The law requires the postal service to fully fund the tab within 10 years, about $5.5 billion a year until it's due in 2016.
No other government agency or private corporation is required to prefund 100 percent of its future health benefits. Imagine being asked to do this for your own business.
Because of this onerous and unprecedented burden, the USPS is facing harmful dire options: Close more than 200 of its 500 processing centers across the country. Eliminate 35,000 jobs. End Saturday mail delivery. Delay first-class delivery times.
All of these options are harmful to average, everyday Americans. These cuts wouldn't just slow down mail delivery. They would end door-to-door delivery for many Americans, and force many people in rural areas to drive long distances to get their mail.
On April 25, the U.S. Senate passed the 21st Century Postal Service Act. This deeply flawed, so-called postal reform bill is not the solution to the challenges facing the USPS. Rather, this legislation advances a dangerously misguided strategy that purports to somehow "save" the USPS by cutting service to its customers.
Simply put, the bill would put the USPS on a slightly delayed death spiral, rather than an immediate one. If passed into law, the bill would only delay closure of more than 100 USPS processing centers and delay the end of Saturday delivery for two years.
In a recent analysis conducted for the National Association of Letter Carriers, the financial advisory firm Lazard noted: "A business plan based on degrading your greatest strength is not likely to be a path to success." The writing's on the wall: Unless there's a public outcry, the post office as we know it won't have a chance.
Urge your member of Congress to roll back the idiotic law of 2006, ending the unprecedented requirement that the USPS pre-fund future retiree health obligations for the next 75 years — and give the USPS a chance to survive on its own.
You can reach your senator or representative by calling (888) 863-6103.
This opinion piece originally appeared in the May 1, 2012 edition of the Detroit News.