Herald-Leader Editorial

Hard choices face post office, Barr

Clarity so much easier in campaign

March 26, 2013 

As a candidate for Congress Andy Barr had, or at least espoused, a crystal clear vision about solving economic woes.

"Politicians and bureaucrats in Washington have dampened business confidence and elevated uncertainty by promoting oppressive regulations and red tape, skyrocketing deficits, a government takeover of our health care system and job-killing tax increases," Barr thundered in his campaign literature.

But the clarity and heat of the campaign trail seemed to morph into a more nuanced view of reality Saturday as Barr stood in the cold with postal workers protesting plans to stop Saturday mail delivery.

Since the 1980s the federal government has been pushing the postal service to become more like a private enterprise that can live on its own earnings, something a free-marketer like Barr would no doubt endorse.

But, what's now called the United States Postal Service, also lives to some extent under the thumb of Congress. For example, Congress has passed a law requiring the USPS to pay $5.5 billion a year into an account to pre-fund retiree healthcare for 75 years into the future, a requirement unknown to other enterprises in the U.S., public or private. Although the USPS announced in February that it wants to save money by cutting out Saturday mail delivery, just last week the House, in a spending proposal to keep the government running, required the post office to keep Saturday delivery. And let's not even talk about politicians' concerns about closing local post offices, an obvious move for an agency trying to cut costs.

Holy oppressive regulations and red tape!

On Saturday Barr said he supported the measure that maintains Saturday delivery. But, he opined, with the USPS in the red, "obviously we have to do something."

That's the trouble with governing, something does have to be done eventually and whatever it is might run afoul of the philosophical certainties that are so clear in campaign season.

Does the new congressman favor a postal service that's free to make decisions about its own business model in order to be self-supporting? Sounds great.

But what about when those decisions mean things like closing post offices, laying off employees, suspending Saturday delivery or letting the USPS slack a little on pensions like almost everyone else and negotiate a new, less costly health-care plan? Not so great when you consider that means eliminating jobs and possibly cutting health and retirement benefits for hundreds of Central Kentuckians, and services for tens of thousands.

Now that Barr is one of those politicians in Washington, we're eager to see how he views the regulations and red tape that so many of his constituents rely on.

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