At noon Thursday, the 112th Congress ended—and not a moment too soon. It was the least productive Congress in modern American history, having stumbled from one self-inflicted debacle to the next. The good news is that the deeply flawed postal reform legislation that emerged over the past two years did not pass. We now have a chance to start over and fight for reform that will actually address the main problems the Postal Service faces: unaffordable and unreasonable retiree health mandates, grossly unfair pension allocations, an outdated business model and an inadequate USPS governance structure. Let us make a New Year’s resolution to pressure the 113th Congress to do much better this year and to save the U.S. Postal Service.
Often, both parties can be blamed for political gridlock in Washington. But the House Republican majority is rightfully being derided (even by GOP officials in the states) for the crippling political paralysis that has prevented the government from functioning at all. In 2011, Congress nearly defaulted on the national debt and almost killed the economic recovery. That crisis was “resolved” by creating the notorious “fiscal cliff” legislation that threatened massive tax hikes and draconian budget cuts on January 1, 2013.
The last-minute legislation enacted on Tuesday offered a partial solution by addressing only the tax side of the “cliff.” Now the country is facing three more fiscal cliffs in the months ahead: the need to raise the nation’s debt limit by the end of February, the need to negotiate an alternative deficit-reduction package to replace the $1 trillion in across-the-board budget cuts (“sequestration”) now scheduled for March 1, and the need to enact a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year.
Letter carriers have a stake in the political battles surrounding all three of these new fiscal cliffs:
• If Congress fails to raise the debt limit (which simply funds the debt created by past tax-and-spend policies adopted by Congress), the country and the world economy could plunge into a deep recession that would cripple the Postal Service. Incredibly, the Tea Party faction of the House GOP is threatening to default on the national debt if President Obama and the Democrats don’t give in to its demands for massive cuts in domestic spending on education, health care, Social Security and infrastructure investments. (The United States has never defaulted on its debt, and the radicals who are irresponsibly seeking to blackmail the country into accepting austerity should be ashamed of themselves.)
• The scheduled sequestration would not directly affect letter carriers, but the proposed alternatives from the Republicans would target federal employee pay and benefits. Chief among these proposals is one to raise federal/postal employee contributions for FERS and CSRS pension benefits by 5 percent of pay. In other words, our pay would be cut by 5 percent, even though our pensions are over-funded.
• Finally, the fight to enact a CR to fund the government for the rest of the year will include a fight to preserve six-day mail delivery, since the requirement to deliver mail on Saturdays is included in an annual appropriation bill.
We have our work cut out for us. We will have to be better than ever as legislative activists in 2013. The crisis at the Postal Service is real and it is not going away. The federal budget crisis is real and it is not going away, either. Blocking bad legislation won’t be good enough this year. We must fight and win the enactment of good postal reform this year, even as we fight to defend our benefits in the midst of the budget wars around us.
I wish everyone a happy New Year, knowing that it will only be happy if we stay together and win the coming fights for letter carriers everywhere.