The U.S. Post Office Approaches its Own Fiscal Cliff

Carper and Issa promise to work together--at last
A U.S. Postal Service carrier delivers mail to homes in Fairfax, VA Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

By now everybody knows about the financial problems of the U.S. Postal Service, which defaulted on a $5 billion payment owed to the U.S. Treasury last August. You would think Congress would have done something about this. But 2012 was an election year. People in Washington were more concerned with their own survival than with coming to the aid of the country’s ailing mail system.

Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Bloomberg's Megan Hughes reports on the fiscal cliff facing the United States Postal Service as the service is expected to post a record annual loss this week and has already met its debt limit for the year. She speaks on Bloomberg television's "In The Loop."

There wasn’t much reward for the few exceptions. Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, helped move a bill through his chamber that would have relieved the USPS of some of its crushing financial obligations. But Representative Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House’s oversight committee, assailed the bill as “a special interest spending binge that would actually make things worse.” Carper responded by frequently blasting House Republicans for failing to pass a more draconian postal-reform bill that Issa himself had crafted. The senator also unveiled the “Carper Countdown Clock” on his website, which ticked off the days that the House failed to act as the USPS was approaching its rendezvous with insolvency. (Clearly that didn’t do any good.)

This year there’s reason to be more hopeful. On Jan. 3, Carper and Issa issued a joint statement in which they struck a more collegial tone. Here’s the key passage:

“Although the 112th Congress did not come to a consensus around a package of reforms that can update the Postal Service’s network and business model to reflect the reality that it faces today, we remain committed to working with our colleagues in both the House and the Senate to reform the Postal Service so it can survive and thrive in the 21st century. While our approaches have differed in the past, we made significant progress in narrowing our differences in recent months, and our commitment to restoring this American institution to long-term solvency is unwavering.”

Carper is a centrist Democrat who frequently collaborates with Republicans. Issa is a fierce partisan. It’s unclear what the men mean by “significant progress,” but issuing a joint statement instead of trading public insults is a sign they’re up to something constructive. Hopefully, their promised solution will come sooner than later. The USPS is losing $25 million a day and may soon need a bailout. Now that the election is over, would it be asking too much for Washington to put an end to this?

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