All Politics Is Local, Except for the USPS

There’s an old saying in political environs that “all politics is local,” meaning that elected representatives tend to vote based on pressures, presumed or real, from the voters back home. That saying certainly applies these days to the congressional delegation from Alaska, though perhaps they’ve gone a bit over the top.

As a result of the seniority system in Congress and the Republican majority in both houses, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee while Rep. Don Young, R-AK, chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. According to press reports, they are outdoing themselves with respect to the amount of “pork” proposed to be sent to Alaska as part of the national highway bill.

The bill passed both chambers in different forms, so a conference committee will have to resolve the differences. Two of the travesties expected to emerge from the conference are a couple “bridges to nowhere,” according to Washington critics of the proposal. One bridge would be a two-mile span of an inlet to link Anchorage with a port that, according to The New York Times, has “almost no homes or businesses.” This would cost up to $2 billion.

There was a time, before he became Appropriations Committee chairman, that Stevens was a major voice on postal issues. His influence was such that he got the U.S. Postal Service’s nine-member Board of Governors to hold one of their monthly meetings in Alaska. He also has hosted Alaskan fishing trips with major direct mailers. Lately, however, he seems much more interested in building bridges.

Another example of local politics and its effect on legislative activity can be found with the pension bill that has passed both houses of Congress. Unfortunately, that bill does not deal with postal pensions. What the bill does do is reduce corporate contributions to company-funded pension programs.

Quoting from The Wall Street Journal, the bill “allows employers to use a more favorable discount rate to calculate assets and liabilities – a change that could add up to $80 billion in savings through 2005.”

A leader of the effort to pass this legislation was Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-KY. Most are aware that some years ago, United Parcel Service moved the bulk of its package sorting to a new facility in Kentucky. Needless to say, McConnell has supported many UPS positions.

Let me quote again from the WSJ: “Within the business community and among Republicans, UPS’ performance provoked both anger and some embarrassment for its chief ally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was trying to help a major employer in his state but had to change his public position on the bill as the company changed its own.”

It also should be noted that though this pension bill has limited duration, it could affect the federal budget through a governmental agency that acts as a backstop to private pension programs.

But let’s return to the political issue. It’s always been considered that one political strength of the postal service is its presence in every community in the United States. It’s considered omnipresent. However, being everywhere may result in being nowhere.

For example, the presence of NASA headquarters in Houston has meant that Texas congressional representatives pay special attention to the NASA budget and employment. One problem for the postal service is that it has no political base that it can consistently count on. Many know that the USPS is prohibited from lobbying. It usually relies on an ad hoc collection of mailers, trade associations and unions to lobby for it.

Perhaps it’s a tongue-in-cheek suggestion, but would the USPS be better served by relocating to a nearby state? Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, has likely obtained more than his share of pork for his state in his long career. It’s unlikely that he’d turn down a postal headquarters.

But I’ve done enough musing for now. It’s generally understood that Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, plans to introduce a postal reform bill, even though that bill is unlikely to advance too far in this congressional session. Many in the direct mail industry favor her bill, though few if any have detailed knowledge of what is in it. That’s a heck of a way to run a business.

Perhaps a move to West Virginia is not such a bad idea.

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