Saturday delivery proposal stalls

Jul 8, 2014

By Tonda F. Rush
CEO and General Counsel | NNA 

WASHINGTON—An early summer proposition by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA, to provide a temporary fix to the ailing Highway Transportation Fund through paper savings from canceling Saturday mail delivery appears to be dead. The proposal had the support of the U.S. Postal Service.

The plan was quietly set aside by House leadership after the surprise defeat of Cantor in his district’s Republican primary in June.

But as soon as it fell off the table, a new threat arose as the House Appropriations Committee in late June considered axing the six-day mail requirement from an annual spending bill. The National Newspaper Association and several other mailers’ organizations had opposed the highway plan. The proposal would not have resulted in a monetary transfer from the Postal Service, which has exhausted its $15 billion borrowing authority from the federal Treasury. Instead, the supposition that ending Saturday mail service would save $2 billion a year—a figure NNA has questioned—would have allowed a credit against the federal deficit. That alleged credit would have been used to offset a payment from general funds to keep the transportation fund in business until after November elections.

“I do not know which aspect of this proposal was more perplexing—that the Postal Service would have bought into an end-run around the committees working so hard to find a compromise postal reform bill, or that the postmaster general would stand for even a paper transfer of funds for any purpose other than postal,” said NNA President Robert M. Williams Jr., publisher of The Blackshear (GA) Times. “To our board, the deal came across as funny money. It was the sort of weird federal budget math our readers complain constantly about. We did not understand why USPS would even consider such an idea.”

“Many of our publishers spoke with their members of Congress about this sort of ‘voodoo’ economics,” added Williams, “and learned many of them were equally taken aback.”

The challenges to six-day mail are not dead. Even without “pretend” highway funding pushing for the postmaster general’s plan to deliver packages—but not newspapers or other mail—on Saturday, Congress faces an annual requirement to reauthorize the six-day mail law through the annual appropriations bill. This year, the six-day mandate was not in the draft being considered by the House Appropriations Committee. Postal labor unions and mailer groups, concerned about the loss of Saturday service, were working with House and Senate committees to put the six-day requirement back into the bill before the final version is voted on.

The absence of the six-day rider does not necessarily mean Congress will cancel Saturday mail. Because Congress typically fails to reach agreement on appropriations bills, funding is usually enacted through agreements to simply roll the previous year’s appropriations forward.

Broader postal reform bills offering financial relief to USPS remain stalled in both the House and Senate. NNA and others have urged Congress to vote on a package that would ease requirements for USPS to prepay its retiree health benefits—a $5 billion annual transfer that has driven the Postal Service deeply into the red. Although the debt now shows up on the USPS balance sheet, it actually has not made the payment for the past three years and is not expected to do so in 2014.