The elephant in the room
January 27, 2010
One or two misleading and one-sided editorials about the Postal Service's financial situation might simply be chalked up to a bad day or a steep learning curve, but the editorial page of The Washington Post has used up its quota of excuses several times over.
Today's editorial may be the worst yet, and that's saying something. It talks about huge losses of money, applauds the planned closing of thousands of post offices to save money—yet ignores the elephant in the room. By now, most observers—including most journalists—are aware that the biggest single drain on the Postal Service's finances is the unique and onerous $5.5 billion payment it has to make each year by congressional mandate to pre-fund future health benefits. This is also an eminently fixable problem, requiring merely congressional approval for an internal transfer of USPS money to make the payments. Who favors that? Only management, labor and key legislators from both parties.
Yet the Post's editorial Thursday doesn't even mention it. Not once. Without this pre-funding requirement, the USPS would be profitable—so it takes either willful misrepresentation of the situation or startling lack of knowledge to ignore it.
Contrast that with the story in The Wall Street Journal Monday—which broke the news on which the Post is attempting to comment—and the reporter's mention of the agency being "saddled with billions in unusually burdensome retiree health costs." The WSJ's story said the obligation "contributed heavily to recent record losses"—and cites congressional efforts to rectify the situation.
And just yesterday, the Post's federal reporter Ed O'Keefe wrote about the pre-funding as a "unique cost that postal officials and union leaders think is an unfair financial burden."
Fox radio, CNN, National Public Radio, The Daily Caller and other media outlets seem to understand the nuances of the USPS finances—so why can't the Post? We're not asking for agreement with our position—simply recognition of the facts. Tell readers why you don't think fixing the pre-funding problem is a good idea, but don't pretend the problem doesn't exist.
This insistence on ignoring the elephant in the room is on top of the Post's repeated factual errors—such as asserting that federal law favors labor in collective bargaining with postal management, or that postal unions are lobbying to stop the pre-funding payments. The Post merely asserts these notions without any evidence—understandable in a way because there isn't any. They're fictions of the Post's editorial page.
Before pontificating on postal issues, the Post's editorial writers might be well served to read news stories in other publications—and in their own newspaper as well. They might learn enough to write thoughtful editorials.