Congress approved the Post Service Reform Act this week, a bill that should end over a decade of financial pain for the U.S. Postal Service.
There was no guarantee that any bill to rescue the oldest federal agency from possible collapse would make it to President Joe Biden’s desk. The final version doesn’t transform the Postal Service like progressives wanted — but at least it rejects calls from conservatives to further privatize the system. In what amounts to a miracle these days, the bill to fix the problems that left the USPS teetering on the brink of collapse got bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
There was no guarantee that any bill to rescue the oldest federal agency from possible collapse would make it to President Joe Biden’s desk.
In 2006, with the Postal Service annually generating profits, Congress made changes intended to make USPS run less like a federal agency and even more like a business. Unlike either private businesses or federal agencies, though, the Postal Service would have to use its profits to pay for its employees’ retirement benefits upfront. At the same time, societal shifts including online bill payments and digital communications caused the amount of first-class mail sent to plummet, which caused revenue to plummet, too. Within five years, the USPS began to default on those required health care payments, racking up over $160 billion in debt by the end of 2019.
Then came the pandemic, which overwhelmed an already beleaguered agency. Republicans responded to an accompanying emphasis on mail-in ballots with suspicion and former President Donald Trump told outright lies about rampant voter fraud. His choice for postmaster general, former shipping executive Louis DeJoy, began instituting a series of reforms that slowed delivery times and prompted accusations that he was an accomplice in Trump’s efforts to tamper with the election’s outcome.
Despite Democrats’ continued side-eye toward DeJoy, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., crafted the bill in consultation with him, incorporating his 10-year strategy into the draft’s framework. That buy-in, according to The Washington Post, led to DeJoy reportedly whipping up GOP votes for the bill in person. That touch paid off. The final package passed the House last month overwhelmingly, 342-92, with most Republicans supporting it. The Senate followed suit this week, voting 79-19 to overhaul USPS’s finances without eliminating or privatizing core services, as the Post explained:
Tuesday’s bill gives the agency a significant reprieve, removing $57 billion in past-due postal liabilities and eliminating $50 billion in payments over the next 10 years. It requires future postal retirees to enroll in Medicare, a move that would add minuscule costs to the public health-care system but would save taxpayers $1.5 billion over the next decade.
The legislation also codifies new timely-delivery transparency requirements for the Postal Service, which has struggled with on-time service since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took office in June 2020, and allows the agency to contract with local, state and Indigenous governments to offer basic non-mail services, such as hunting and fishing licenses.
That’s all hugely welcome news for the over 600,000 postal workers nationwide, considering how dire the situation was for the Postal Service just two years ago. “I think across the board this is good news,” Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, told NBC News. “Since it’s an entity that doesn’t run on taxpayer money, it doesn’t run on putting money in the bank. It runs on a break-even basis of serving the people. This bill will then help provide better service to the people in the country.”
There are areas where the bill falls short. A proposal to reintroduce banking to the Postal Service, which progressives say would be transformative to millions of Americans who have little to no access to financial services, never made it into the bill. Nor did a proposed revamp to how the Postal Service handles mail-in ballots, changes that would inoculate future elections from the sort of attacks Trump made in 2020. And it doesn’t halt DeJoy’s decision to replace the decrepit fleet of mail trucks with nearly 150,000 gas-powered vehicles, which Democrats see as a deliberate snub of Biden’s climate goals.
It’s a big achievement, if not exactly a high-profile or glamorous one, for Congress.
But the priority here had to be making sure the Postal Service remains a public service for decades to come. I had doubts that even this basic goal would be met given the antipathy toward the problem for the last decade and a half. Democrats’ distrust of DeJoy and GOP disdain for government services in general didn’t exactly generate hope for a deal. I’m glad to have been proved wrong.
It’s a big achievement, if not exactly a high-profile or glamorous one, for Congress, which hasn’t exactly earned a reputation for productivity. Literally keeping the lights on has become a constant struggle, let alone doing more than the absolute least. There’s still a lot to do, and DeJoy remains on my list of suspicious characters, but at least the raging trash fire that’s threatened the Postal Service has finally been doused.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., summed it up best with a bit of classic Schumer corniness Tuesday: "The post office usually delivers for us, but today we’re going to deliver for them.”