50-cent stamp can't be far off
WASHINGTON -- That birthday card from Grandma with the $20 bill tucked inside could be a thing of the past, thanks to your government.
It seems that the U.S. Postal Service raises the cost of a postage stamp every few weeks. That means fewer people are using the mail. That means the Postal Service can't meet its budget, so it raises the cost of the regular-mail stamp again. There's something wrong with this scenario.
Earlier this summer, the service (hah!) proposed the 46-cent stamp, up from 44 cents. The 50-cent stamp can't be far behind, and that's a psychological barrier that is going to stymie those folks in Washington even more.
My little neighborhood post office asked for and received a reduction in its rent, from $31,680 a year to $27,000. Officials complied because they didn't want to lose the local gathering spot and have to drive miles to the nearest post office.
Many of us have an affectionate bond with our mail carrier, who, after all, knows a lot about us even though he/she does seem to deliver an incredible amount of useless mail along with Grandma's birthday card.
Most of us feel powerless as a 50-cent stamp looms, although we know we won't be buying as many stamps anymore. (This is coming at us just as the FBI claims it has the authority to compel companies to turn over records of our Internet activity such as e-mails without court orders, and as there is new talk of taxing sales through the Internet.)
We consumers may not have the clout to block stamp increases -- just as we don't seem to be able to make the government stop wasting billions of dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- but the bulk-mail people are mustering outrage.
The Washington Post reports that the Affordable Mail Alliance (Yes! There is such a thing!) has gone into full lobbying mode, hiring former aides to President Barack Obama to try to stop the relentless increases in postage, such as a whopping 8 percent increase in magazine postage, for example. The alliance may even take the Postal Service to court to try to block the increases, although it's hard to see how the mailers could win even if they do argue that the service is illegally raising rates higher than the rate of inflation.
Our neighborhood mail carrier is a gem, beloved by everyone. And we like the fact that he works on Saturdays. That could end soon if the postmaster general, a man named Potter (wasn't that the name of the villain in "It's a Wonderful Life"?), has his way. He wants to end Saturday mail delivery, saying that's the only way to keep the service functioning.
The Senate, which has to approve a cutback to five-day deliveries, is not so certain such a move would save enough money to prevent the Postal Service from losing $7 billion a year, as it contends it will do this fiscal year. Rural-state senators say the end of six-day mail delivery would be hard on constituents.
With fewer people, sadly, writing actual letters, the mail delivery increasingly seems to bring junk and bills. But we all depend on the mail service more than we realize. If we could choose, I'd rather have five-day service than 50-cent stamps, although the Postal Service seems to be determined to give us both.
There is growing talk that our grandchildren won't have a Postal Service. The technology to replace it is not here yet, but it certainly could be within a short time. There are undoubtedly people who would cheer the end of the advertising fliers, the community newspapers, the direct-mail catalogs, the political brochures. Not me. I would miss that daily packet that flops through the mail slot fastened together with a rubber band. Not to mention Grandma's birthday cards.
Competitors such as FedEx and UPS seem to be able to stay in business quite profitably without constantly raising rates. Why can't the huge Postal Service?
-- Scripps Howard columnist McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.