Bipartisanship is hard to come by in Washington these days, but in a nearly miraculous moment, a healthy percentage of Senators from both parties have found something they can agree on. President Trump is pushing a plan to completely privatize the United States Postal Service (USPS) as soon as it’s determined to be mostly back on its feet financially. These Senators want to shut that idea down. It may be surprising to see Republicans and conservatives joining in the chorus fighting against privatization of anything, but in this case, they’ve probably got a good point. And the leader of the current movement in the Senate is someone who desperately needs to look more bipartisan heading into the midterms… Claire McCaskill. (Government Executive)
A bipartisan group of senators representing more than one-quarter of the upper chamber this week put forward a measure to block the Trump administration from moving forward with its plans to privatize the U.S. Postal Service.
The resolution (S.Res. 633) follows a companion in the House introduced this summer with 190 signatures from members of both parties, including more than three-dozen Republicans. The measures followed a proposal in President Trump’s plan to reorganize government to privatize USPS, which the White House said should occur after the agency got back on firmer financial footing. The plan has been met with widespread, and bipartisan, rebuke.
The Senate resolution was spearheaded by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and included five Republican cosponsors. They noted USPS already does not receive taxpayer funds, employs more than 500,000 workers, plays a critical role in the growing e-commerce industry and enjoys high favorability ratings, in suggesting the Postal Service remain “an independent establishment of the federal government and not subject to privatization.”
Trump’s instinct to attempt to shrink the government, with privatization being one tool in his kit, is a good one. But even speaking as someone who is generally a big fan of privatization, there are situations where it’s called for and others where it isn’t. And even when we do find a likely target for privatization, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. One example of those “wrong way” ideas was that half-baked plan for privatizing the Air Traffic Control system that was being kicked around last year. It may be possible to privatize ATC in the future, but just turning it all over to the unions and their lobbyists was no way to go about it.
As far as the USPS goes, there are several arguments against attempting to privatize it at all. The biggest one is found when asking the question of why we want to privatize it. The two driving factors in privatization are saving taxpayer dollars and providing more efficient, better quality services to citizens. The USPS doesn’t use taxpayer dollars (except in the form of bailouts, secured loans, etc., but that’s a debate for another day.) It has to operate on its own revenue and it doesn’t need to show a profit. That’s an almost ideal situation, as any private sector replacement would be profit driven by definition, making the success curve even steeper.
On the “services” side of the equation, we’re not talking about the government dreaming up some new job to keep people busy. Maintaining a post office is mentioned right in Article I, Section 8. The Congress shall have power to establish post offices and post roads. Granted, that doesn’t say that Congress must do this, but the Founders clearly saw a need for it. McCaskill makes a good point in saying that a private, for-profit operation wouldn’t be motivated to make deliveries out to rural areas. There’s just no profit incentive. But the USPS delivers everywhere. (And it’s a rare day when you see me agreeing with Claire McCaskill on much, so mark this on your calendars.)
The USPS has problems. There’s no question about that. But they have been making progress in terms of efficiency and covering their own costs. And they still have an important role to play in our society. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but there’s simply no significant upside to trying to privatize it in my opinion.