Our View: Saturday letter delivery an expensive luxury

post office awash in red ink pulls plug on a costly luxury

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The U.S. Postal Service has powerful unions, and Congress, although disinclined to pay for it, is enormously protective of the mail service. Unfortunately, the post office is in poor and worsening financial shape, losing $15.9 billion in the last budget year alone.

First-class mail, its most profitable service, has fallen by 37 percent since 2007, largely because people use the Internet to communicate and pay bills. Mailboxes are more likely to contain bills, magazines, an occasional card and so-called junk mail than personal letters. (The price of a first-class stamp rose a penny recently, to 46 cents. How many even noticed that?)

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced that the service is planning to end Saturday pickup and delivery of letters, although letter carriers will continue to deliver packages, one of the few growth areas for the USPS, and priority and express mail.

The Postal Service plans to switch to Monday-through-Friday delivery in early August. The cutback is expected to save $2 billion a year, which Donahoe called "too big of a cost savings to ignore." That, of course, is only a modest start on a shortfall approaching $16 billion.

Congress has expressly required six-day delivery since 1981, but that requirement was somehow omitted from a stopgap resolution last fall temporarily funding government operations through March 27.

Congress could reinstate the requirement, but Donahoe is betting that by then the public will have grown used to the idea and that lawmakers, prone to burdening the Postal Service with mandates they don't pay for, will see the virtues of the savings.

Congress gives a lot of lip service to running government agencies "like a business." Here's its chance to support an entity that is actually trying. Saturday mail delivery is a costly luxury that belongs in the Dead Letter Office.

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