Congress in no rush to cut mail delivery

One of the stumbling blocks is disagreement over how much money the Postal Service would save by stopping Saturday service.

Despite the U.S. Postal Service's persistent financial distress, Congress appears unlikely this year to approve the postmaster general's cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Saturday mail delivery.

"There's no political will to do it right now," said Jerry Cerasale, a lobbyist for the Direct Marketing Association, a trade group of businesses and nonprofit organizations that relies largely on mail to communicate with customers. "The only way that you'd really see it happen is if the dire financial straits of the Postal Service continue well into the future."

As they have every year since 1983, House and Senate appropriators stipulated in the fiscal 2010 spending bills covering the Postal Service that it must deliver mail six days a week. There were no attempts to change the language in the Financial Services Appropriations bill before it passed the House in July. The companion bill in the Senate awaits floor action, but so far there has been no groundswell of support for cutting back on mail delivery.

But House and Senate lawmakers have not completely abandoned the idea of a shift to five-day delivery. Chairmen of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and House Homeland Security subcommittees that deal with postal issues -- Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., and Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. -- have said lawmakers should keep the option on the table.

The urgency to make drastic changes in mail delivery waned significantly last month when Congress passed a one-year fix to relieve the Postal Service of having to make a $5.9 billion advance payment to its retiree health fund.

Also hurting prospects for a cutback in mail delivery is a continuing dispute over how much money the change could save.

Postmaster General John Potter, who proposed five-day delivery in January, contends that ending Saturday delivery could save his agency up to $3.5 billion annually. But a concurrent estimate by the Postal Regulatory Commission put projected savings at $1.9 billion.

Unions representing postal workers have lobbied heavily against the slashing of Saturday delivery, arguing that the move would not only cost jobs but would create a void that would be filled quickly by private services such as United Parcel Service and Federal Express.

"It would be the beginning of the death knell," said Drew Von Bergen, spokesman for the National Association of Letter Carriers.