The crisis hitting the U.S. Postal Service is not at all as clear as some people would have you believe.
It's true that people's habits have changed dramatically in recent years with the rise of online bill-paying, email and other Internet-based conveniences that have eaten into post office business. Like anything else, the agency has had to adapt to changing times; in some ways it's been successful, and in others not.
But the Internet is not the sole -- or even main -- cause of the postal service's crisis, which led to a missed payment of $5.5 billion last week to its Retiree Health Benefits Fund; it will also miss a $5.6 billion payment due in September.
This is, in fact, a manufactured crisis. Congress in 2006 mandated that the postal service fund its retirement system 75 years in advance, a ridiculous standard that no other entity, private or public, comes close to matching. Though its retirement fund is currently flush with cash, it's not enough to meet the congressional standard, and so the agency is in danger of serious cuts.
Someone of a cynical bent might think this crisis was designed to make government look bad. Just look at this bureaucratic, unionized dinosaur, they say -- can't keep up with the times and now we're all paying.
It's a facile argument.
The U.S. Postal Service serves a valuable function for much of the country. Some of its services have improved through competition with private providers, but there are functions of the postal service no one wants to provide because delivering mail for a flat rate to every address in America, no matter how remote, is not how you make money.
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut has led the Senate's push to rescue the postal service from its predicament and prevent damaging cuts. He has urged, sensibly, that the Republican-led House do the same thing. It has refused. It is hard to see this as anything other than an ideological attack at one of the most visible functions of the federal government.
The people deserve better. Lieberman is right. The House needs to act and make the postal service's requirements on par with the rest of the public sector.
The chances of that happening are slim. The losers will be the American people.