WASHINGTON - Sen. Harry Reid is challenging the U.S. Postal Service's move to halt Saturday delivery of first-class mail, saying that is a decision for Congress to make, and not the agency.
Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, said Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe got bad legal advice in announcing this week that weekend mail delivery would stop in August, a cost-cutting move to save about $2 billion.
"Such a drastic policy change cannot be enacted without approval from Congress," Reid said. "This short-sighted measure will deal a crippling blow to the millions of Americans and small businesses who rely on the timely and reliable delivery to every community in our nation."
Besides, Reid added, "Cutting down mail delivery to five days per week will not save the Postal Service from insolvency."
Reid did not say what action he planned to take. Other senators said the move will prompt lawmakers to resurrect efforts to overhaul the agency, which is drenched in red ink. A Senate hearing is set for Wednesday.
Nevada's two other congressional Democrats, Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, were critical of the Postal Service decision. Sen. Dean Heller and GOP Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei were silent when queried on the topic.
The Postal Service has struggled for years while waiting for Congress to help set its direction. The fate of Saturday mail delivery was debated last year as part of an effort to fix the agency, which lost almost $16 billion that year.
But lawmakers could not reach a conclusion, consensus or compromise.
The effort foundered over several obstacles, including differences over when and how to reduce the Postal Service's workforce and billions of dollars in employee benefits.
Reid said the problem could have been prevented if the House had agreed to pass a Senate bill that blocked the Postal Service from moving to five-day delivery for two years.
A House bill that passed out of the committee, but was not brought to the floor, would have given the Postal Service authority to limit deliveries to five days a week. Late last year, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., proposed a compromise in which the Postal Service would deliver only packages on Saturdays - essentially the plan announced by Donohoe this week.
Despite the estimated savings from ending Saturday delivery, Titus, D-Nev., called it is a bad decision "that will take away the Postal Service's most important competitive advantage.
"This is not a sustainable solution to its current financial situation and will likely drive many customers away," Titus said. "I urge the Postal Service to reconsider this plan."
Horsford, D-Nev., said financial restrictions have tied the hands of the Postal Service - including a 2006 law that forced the agency to pre-fund its pension plan. "That's a remarkable burden, and the Postal Service is hemorrhaging money because they are paying for employees they haven't even hired yet," Horsford said.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.