In politics, if you say something loud enough and often enough, people will believe it. The Democrats have employed this strategy in the current controversy about mail-in voting, bellowing repeatedly that President Trump is trying to sabotage the November election by tampering with the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle mail-in ballots, which the Democrats see as the future for their party’s electoral victories. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s orchestration of last Saturday’s 257-150 House vote gifting $25 billion to the USPS was their latest gambit.
The reality, of course, is far different from the Democrat narrative, as Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson established at a Senate hearing he chaired the day before the House vote, labelling the Democrat charges nothing but a conspiratorial “false political narrative.”
The difficulties facing the USPS in the Internet Age has been one of the worst kept secrets in Washington. Study after study has documented how internet communications, especially e-mails, have taken a huge bite out of letter mail. A report by the Treasury Department in December 2018 accurately identified this culprit, noting that “the shift toward digital correspondence and the corresponding decline in USPS mail volume” has resulted in the Service “losing money for more than a decade and is on an unsustainable financial path.” This study was not the first to sound the alarm about the financial difficulties facing the USPS, nor has it been the last.
A September 2019 report by the USPS Inspector General noted that the continuing challenges facing the Service were not being met, resulting in “processing mail with lower productivity for manual, flats, and letters.” In layman’s terms, this means that in the face of dramatically reduced first-class and “flat” letter mail, the USPS was failing to reduce processing costs adequately, thereby continuing deficit spending.
The USPS Inspector General study noted that despite limited implementation of cost-saving measures that had been recommended eight years previously (such as consolidating facilities, improving mail handling automation, and reducing equipment inventories), progress was slow and uneven.
Two major problems have hampered the Postal Service’s ability to significantly cut costs to meet the reality of internet communications. The first of these is Congress itself.
The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 formally established the USPS as an organization with elements common to both government agencies and private businesses. This configuration reduced but did not stop congressional meddling in Postal Service operations, such as proposals to close unnecessary post offices or reduce the number of days it delivers mail each week. The real blow came in 2006 when the Congress (then with a GOP majority) passed legislation (signed by then-President George W. Bush) mandating that the Service must pay forward the massive retirement health benefits for its many thousands of employees. This alone has cost the USPS tens of billions of dollars and caused it to operate at a loss every year since 2006.
Other ongoing cost saving measures undertaken by the USPS during both Republican and Democrat administrations, such as removing lightly used mailboxes and discarding outdated sorting machines, while not nearly enough to cover the huge cost of pre-funding health retirement benefits, have helped stem the fiscal hemorrhaging. However, when recently appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took steps to simply continue such modest measures, he ran into a congressional buzz saw, even being accused of acting with criminal intent by a pair of Democrat House members.
This brings us to the real elephant in the room, and the other main reason behind the Postal Service’s financial insolvency — its heavily unionized workforce. Since being legitimized by the 1970 law that established the USPS, these unions “negotiate compensation, benefits, and working conditions,” including “no layoff” clauses; factors that have spawned a future the 2019 Treasury report calls “unsustainable.”
Following tradition, the postal unions already have endorsed Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden; they also have been pressing Pelosi to exercise her power as Speaker to stop DeJoy from implementing further cost-cutting measures, even including those carried over from the Obama Administration.
What we are witnessing is a proxy war being waged by Democrats in Congress on behalf of the postal union workers on whose votes Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and now presidential nominee Biden depend. It has nothing whatsoever to do with “voting rights.”
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and served as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.