Will Congress force the USPS to deliver mail on Saturdays?

Congress has long kept the Postal Service from moving to a five-day schedule, but the USPS seems to be ignoring lawmakers this time around

A mail carrier walks his route in Los Angeles on Feb. 6.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced Wednesday that the U.S. Postal Service will stop delivering mail (but not packages) on Saturdays starting the week of Aug. 5, saving the agency about $2 billion a year. A lot of questions have arisen about the move — Is $2 billion enough to dent the USPS's big deficits? Will cutting Saturdays actually cost the post office more money, as postal unions, paper manufacturers, and other affected business argue? — but the most immediate and pressing question is this: Will Congress quash the plan before it begins?

Here's the problem: In 1970, Congress largely uncoupled the USPS from the federal government, making it a nominally independent quasi-government agency instead of the federal cabinet-level department it had been since Ben Franklin was postmaster general. The idea was to let it operate more like a business, free of taxpayer subsidies (since the early 1980s) and political interference. "But, of course, Congress was preternaturally incapable of keeping its paws off the Postal Service, essentially insisting on maintaining ultimate political control over all important decisions of postal policy," says John Tierney at Salon. Since 1981, Congress has ordered the Postal Service to deliver mail six days a week, and it has repeatedly shot down the USPS's request to shave off a day, or at least failed to act on it, as happened in the last Congress.

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