Hard to blame Patrick Donahoe, the postmaster general, for wanting to push ahead without Congress. Lawmakers long have been fiddling with the idea of revamping a U.S. Postal Service that finished last year with $15.9 billion in losses. Take concrete action? Not yet.
On Wednesday, Donahoe captured the attention of many on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. He announced that the Postal Service would seek to stop Saturday delivery of letters. Packages would continue to be delivered. Post offices would remain open on Saturdays. Donahoe seized an opening in Congress failing to restate in the current stopgap budget its mandate requiring Saturday delivery.
A thin claim? Probably, especially in view of the stopgap budget expiring in late March, giving lawmakers the opportunity to be explicit.
Yet Donahoe is right in the main: Something must be done quickly to repair the finances of the Postal Service. Other countries, such as Canada and Australia, have gone to delivery five days a week. The move would save the post office roughly $2 billion a year.
Still, Congress would help more by easing the requirement that the Postal Service pay $5.5 billion a year toward health benefits for future retirees, something no other federal agency must do.
Many point to the relentless trend, the rise in email as the volume of first-class mail has declined 37 percent the past five years. Yet the trend also highlights an increasingly 24/7 world, the Saturday mail no less important than other days. In other words, the question should be open, ideally with Congress picking up the pace, arriving at the conclusion that much leaner Postal Service and all, six days of mail is worth subsidizing.