Legislation

Darrell Issa's Mischievous Postal Reform Bill


(Corrects the spelling of Darrell Issa's name in the headline and first paragraph.)

There is something politically mischievous about U.S. Representative Darrell Issa’s new bill to end Saturday letter delivery. The California Republican announced yesterday that he has introduced legislation that would use the saving from eliminating Saturday delivery to restore cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees that were cut in last year’s budget act.

A little context is helpful here. Issa is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees the money-losing U.S. Postal Service. He has emerged as the primary advocate of postal reform in Congress. Many of his proposals have already been successfully adopted in other countries. Last month, he lauded Canada Post’s decision to end home delivery in cities.

But Issa hasn’t been able to pass his sweeping reform bills in the House. He can’t get any Democratic support, and some of his ideas spook Republicans, too. Rank-and-file members of both parties are leery of alienating voters with service cuts. They are also beneficiaries of campaign contributions from postal workers unions. The unions are staunchly opposed to reform proposals, such as ending Saturday letter delivery, that threaten the jobs of their members.

Issa claims ending Saturday letter delivery will save $17 billion—more than enough to restore the $6 billion cut to veterans while allowing the USPS to keep the rest. The new bill is clearly an effort by Issa to put his opponents on the spot. He’s forcing them to make a choice in an election year: Do they want their bills and junk mail delivery on Saturdays so badly that they are willing to shortchange veterans? If so, they can go public with their position.

Issa isn’t being entirely cynical. Other counties are choosing to adopt major postal reforms because they fear their current systems will became financial liabilities as consumers abandon paper-based communication for the digital kind. New Zealand is moving to three-day-a-week delivery in cities. Canada wants to save money by depositing mail in neighborhood cluster boxes rather than taking it to people’s homes.

Recently, America’s political leaders have been more comfortable doing nothing. If Issa has his way, the voters may hold them accountable for it.

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

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