We can do something about postage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

I cleaned out my desk drawer the other day and found a partially used book of 33-cent postage stamps, circa 1998. Then, stuck under a pencil tray I found a book of 34-cent stamps. Of course both books are useless now as stand alone postage. I’ll have to go get a book of 1-cent stamps so I can piece together first class postage until these are used up.

That’s annoying, but the pain of the higher postage rates amounts to more than the aggravation of keeping up with multiple books of stamps. It comes through the increased prices businesses pass on to consumers when they mail correspondence like bank and investment statements, magazines, utility bills and, yes, newspapers. It all adds up to costlier bills in my mailbox and yours.

Soon, the 108th Congress will have an opportunity to do something. According to the National Newspaper Association, if Congress acts on Senate Bill 380 and House Bill 735, consumers won’t have to buy 39- or 40-cent stamps next year. If it doesn’t act, another postage increase is assured, according to Postmaster General Jack Potter. Jerry Tidwell, publisher of the Hood County News, Granbury, Texas, and the regional NNA director for this area, says everyone will benefit from this bill, everyone who either sends mail or does business with a mail customer.

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The United States Postal Service discovered last November that one of its major expenses, contributions to retirement funds, would be overpaid by $71 billion over the next 40 years. That’s billion, with a B. This year’s share of retirement contributions alone is nearly $3 billion. If that payment has to be made, the Postal Service will raise rates again in 2004. The funding for the postal employees’ Civil Service Retirement System comes partly from payroll withholding and matching contributions and partly from the annual USPS payments. Once the cup is full of payments, benefits are secure. If more is added, the pensioners don’t get more and the Postal Service doesn’t get the money back. It is just overflow.

And the cup will overflow generously into federal coffers unless Congress changes the law. The federal Office of Personnel Management, Office of Management and Budget and Treasury Department all agree that the payments will be too much, but only Congress can stop them.

The two new bills, S. 380, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Thomas Carper, D-Del., and HR 735, sponsored by Reps. John McHugh, R-N.Y., Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Danny Davis, D-Ill., and Tom Davis, R-Va., would put the payments back into line with the funding need.

The labor unions support the revision; so do most business groups. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Why wouldn’t Congress simply take up the legislation and pass it?

The catch is that the revenue overflow from the postal pension plan reduces the federal budget deficit look better on the books. That’s where politics begins to get in the way of good common sense. With a deficit soaring over $200 billion this year the desire of Congressional budget balancers to hang onto the overflow is understandable. But it is wrong.

The right way to levy a tax is &8220;cards on the center of the table&8221; Congressional procedure &045; debate and vote by the folks we sent to Washington to represent us, not through an accidental tax on the stamp. The postal system is not intended to be a general fund revenue source or stop-gap for a federal government incapable balancing its budget.

Contact information for Senators can be found at www.senate.gov, for members of the House of Representatives at www.house.gov.

If rising postage or back door taxes irk you, now is a good time to let your representatives know how you would like to be represented on the matter.

Todd Carpenter

is publisher of The Democrat. He can be reached at 445-3618 or by e-mail at