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What can Dems do to get the US Postal Service back on track?

Given the USPS's systemic difficulties, and public demands for improvements, reform efforts have a credible shot at success.
Photo: U.S. postal service truck
U.S. postal service trucks sit parked at the post office in Del Mar, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2013.Mike Blake / Reuters file

If my inbox is any indication, public interest in the health of the U.S. Postal Service is quite high. I've received more than a few notes from folks who've said they're pleased with the start of the Biden era, which is soon followed by a question: "Is there anything that can be done to fix the USPS?"

It's a tricky question, made more difficult by Louis DeJoy, the Republican fundraiser whom Donald Trump appointed to serve as postmaster general -- and whom President Joe Biden cannot simply fire at will. As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, "there's not much the president can do to intervene immediately in postal operations," though congressional Democrats have urged Biden to shake up the U.S. Postal Service's nine-member governing board.

And while the president can't oust DeJoy, the USPS governing board can. Indeed, USA Today's editorial board last week wrote, "While the president can't legally replace DeJoy, he can fire the board members, all appointees of a president who maligned the Postal Service by calling it a joke. The board members Trump named certainly sat idle while DeJoy's incompetence dragged down agency performance in the middle of a pandemic. By statute, board members are pledged to 'represent the public interest.' That hasn't happened. Moving them out, and DeJoy thereafter, would truly serve the public interest."

But there are other remedies also on the table. NBC News reported last week:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced legislation that would provide the Postal Service much-needed financial relief by doing away with a mandate that required it to prepay retirement benefits decades in advance. The issue stems from a 2006 law that required the Postal Service to create a $72 billion fund that would pay for its employees' retirement health benefits for more than 50 years into the future. This is not required by any other federal agency.

As NBC News' report added, the "USPS Fairness Act" would do away with the mandate.

At this point, some of you are probably thinking, "But wait, bills like these sound great, but so long as the Senate filibuster exists, Mitch McConnell will simply kill all legislation that can't be passed through the budget reconciliation process."

The good news, however, is that USPS reforms are not -- or at least, have not been -- a strictly partisan issue. When the USPS Fairness Act came to the House floor last year, it passed with over 300 votes, which was a total that included dozens of GOP lawmakers.

It didn't pass the Senate, obviously, but only because then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ignored it and the Trump White House opposed it. In the new Congress, it's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) controlling the floor and the Biden White House in a position to back the reform measure.

This is not to say passage would be easy, but given the USPS's systemic difficulties, and public demands for improvements, this and other reform efforts have a credible shot at success.