Congress

Al Franken's Fanciful Post Office Fix


Sen. Al Franken at a news conference on Capitol Hill, December 11, 2012 in Washington

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Al Franken at a news conference on Capitol Hill, December 11, 2012 in Washington

The U.S. Postal Service has another would-be savior: Al Franken, the U.S. senator from Minnesota and former Saturday Night Live cast member. On Thursday, he and seven Democratic colleagues introduced a bill to “modernize” the financially troubled agency, which is losing $25 million a day.

By “modernize,” Franken and his allies mean expand the Postal Service’s operations. This is from his press release: “The measure would let the Postal Service look for innovative new ways to generate revenue by allowing post offices to notarize documents, issue hunting and fishing licenses, and allow shipments of wine and beer—all services currently prohibited at post offices.”

There is also vague language about how the legislation would “clear the way for the Postal Service to help customers take advantage of e-mail and Internet services.”

These ideas are worth considering, but there are already plenty of reform proposals floating around Congress. The Senate passed a reform bill last April, only to have it languish in an election year. So presumably, Franken and his allies have already had their say on the matter. There are also competing bills in the House.

What Congress needs to do now is come up with a compromise that can make it though both houses. It will be difficult for Republicans and Democrats to reach such an agreement. Democrats are heavily supported by postal worker unions, which hope to protect the jobs of their members at a time when mail volume is declining. That surely has something to do with Franken’s proposal to increase the duties of clerks in rural areas. It’s job security for them.

House Republicans talk about the need to shrink the federal government. But they haven’t been able to pass an existing bill that would eliminate Saturday delivery, which the public supports to save the USPS.

When it comes down to it, Franken’s new bill is another attempt by Congress to look like it’s doing something to ease the Postal Service’s woes. But it’s really just another distraction.

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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