Congress has a lot on its plate this lame-duck session. It has to pass a bill to continue to fund the government by December 11, should fill a number of judicial vacancies, and, at least according to the Constitution, must either authorize or put an end to the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
But those are just the major headline-grabbing items. There are also many less-well-known things that Congress has to get done before the end of the year if it wants to, you know, actually govern the country.
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One of those less-well-known but incredibly important priorities is saving the United States Post Service from the Republicans who want to bankrupt and privatize it so they can give it to their billionaire buddies.
Ever since Benjamin Franklin took office as America’s first Postmaster General on July 26, 1775, the Postal Service has served as an example of everything that’s great about this country and its government.
It’s a public service set up by “We the People” to foster commerce and communication, and even today in this age of email and the internet, the Post Office is a lifeline for millions of Americans living in rural areas where the internet doesn’t reach and where FedEx won’t deliver.
But now it’s in a whole lot of financial trouble thanks to one of the most destructive pieces of intentional Republican poison-pill legislation in recent history.
On December 20, 2006, right before lawmakers left for the holidays, Republicans in Congress forced through a bill that required the Postal Service to put into a savings account enough money to pay for all of its retired workers’ health benefits 75 years into the future. In other words, the Post Office is saving money right now to pay for the health benefits of people who haven’t yet even been born!
This is something so massively stupid and destructive that no other business or government agency on earth has ever had to do it or even considered doing it, and it’s why the Post Office has been in the red every year since the law was passed in 2006.
If Congress were actually serious about saving the Post Office, it would take action right now to stop requiring the Postal Service to put over $5 billion a year into a savings account for the retirement health benefits of people who haven’t yet even been born.
When Republicans take over the Senate in January, the guy who will have a say over how the Postal Service is run will be Republican senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and he wants to privatize the entire Post Office – just hand it over to the highest bidders.
Time really is running out.
But even if Congress does get its act together and repeals the 2006 pension requirement that’s bankrupting the Post Office, there are still a lot of other things it needs to do to make the Post Office work well in this era of the internet.
Right now, because of that same 2006 law, the post office is banned from doing pretty much anything else besides deliver mail.
It can’t, for example, offer notary services, it can’t cash checks, and it can’t deliver alcohol. It also can’t offer its customers basic financial services, something that would go a long way towards undercutting the payday loan sharks who prey on poor and working-class Americans.
As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out in a recent editorial for the Wall Street Journal, the Postal Service could generate as much as $9 billion in revenue every year if Congress allowed it to offer financial services.
That’s almost double the amount of money the Postal Service lost in 2014 by prefunding its workers’ pension plans 75 years into the future.
Ultimately, the question of whether we want to have a profitable, innovative post office is a subset of the question of whether we want our government to succeed at anything, ever.
Republicans hate to see the government work and would like billionaires to both own and run everything, so they oppose the postal reforms that would actually make the Post Office profitable and competitive again.
And because they’re taking power in two months, we need to make our voices heard now.
Call your members of Congress today and tell them that you support saving the Post Office and oppose privatizing it.
After all, it’s what Ben Franklin would do.