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Published: Thursday, 10/18/2012

End postal crisis now

Once Congress is back in session, it needs to fix the U.S. Postal Service, for good. A short-term bailout may help, but a long-term fix requires major legislative reform.

The path ahead is disastrous for millions of Americans who rely on timely mail delivery and for thousands of employees whose jobs are at stake. Those include hundreds of workers at 30 post offices in northwest Ohio and Michigan’s Monroe and Lenawee counties, as well as 338 employees at the northwest Ohio regional mail-processing center in Toledo.

The Postal Service’s deplorable state of affairs was largely manufactured by Congress as a political statement. The agency faces challenges in competing against online and private delivery competitors. But more than 80 percent of its debt — an estimated $25 million a day — is the result of a 2006 law that requires the Postal Service to pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits within a decade. No other part of government is burdened with a similar mandate.

Predictably, the Postal Service defaulted on a $5.6 billion payment last month, bringing its missed payments to $11.1 billion. Its losses for the most recent fiscal year will total $15 billion. Congress needs to stop the budgetary carnage.

The Postal Service is raising the cost of first-class postage stamps by a penny, to 46 cents, starting Jan. 27. That won’t come close to generating the revenue it needs. It has asked Congress for permission to raise rates by a nickel; a 50-cent stamp doesn’t seem unreasonable.

But lawmakers have refused to consider the request, so the Postal Service must abide by a law that limits increases in stamp costs to inflation, or 2.6 percent. Why not allow the agency to set its own rates and let the free market decide?

The Postal Service’s debt is spiraling out of control because of ill-conceived laws passed by Congress. Lawmakers must reverse or modify them before that debt goes beyond the point of no return.

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