The U.S. Postal Service is losing $25 million a day.
Let that sink in.
The problem isn't new, but it has gotten more desperate.
For years, the service -- an independent agency that doesn't receive tax money but is subject to congressional control -- has been begging lawmakers for the freedom to operate as a business that makes decisions based on market demands.
The volume of mail has been declining steadily in the Internet age as more people turn to electronic communication and bill-paying.
In an effort to cut costs, the Postal Service eliminated more than 100,000 jobs and closed more than 100 post offices during the past few years.
But the bleeding only worsened.
That's in large part because of Congress, which in 2006 required the service to pre-fund employee pensions -- something no other government agency or business is required to do -- to the tune of $5 billion a year.
Facing the real possibility of bankruptcy, the Postal Service now wants to close 252 mail-processing centers -- including the Lancaster facility where York's mail is sorted -- and about 3,700 more post offices, reduce deliveries to five days a week and end next-day mail delivery, among other changes.
The goal is to cut $20 billion in annual operating costs by 2015. Makes sense.
Unfortunately, the Postal Service needs congressional approval for most of those changes, except relaxing first-class mail standards.
Although the Senate last week approved a bill that refunds about $11 billion from the pension funds and lifts the pre-funding requirement, lawmakers still think they know how to run the Postal Service better than -- well, the Postal Service.
In exchange for relieving the service of pension burden, the Senate bill adds new restrictions on closings and cuts to service.
It bars the closing of any processing center before the November elections and takes about half of them off the chopping block altogether. That would allow the overnight, first-class delivery of mail to continue for a few more years.
The bill protects rural post offices slated for closure for at least a year and makes it easier for communities to appeal the closures.
It also forbids the service to move to a five-day-week delivery schedule for two years.
The Postal Service's board of governors was clearly exasperated by the Senate's meddling, as we all should be.
"It is totally inappropriate in these economic times to keep unneeded facilities open," it said in a statement. "There is simply not enough mail in our system today. It is also inappropriate to delay the implementation of five-day delivery."
The bill smacks of election-year politics, where the authors tried to make everyone happy to the point next to nothing was accomplished.
The pension issue needed to be addressed, but there were other hard choices. If the Senate had done the right thing -- what the Postal Service requested -- some people would have been inconvenienced. Some people would have lost their jobs.
But if we want the service to survive and be self-sufficient, it has to restructure. It makes no sense at all to force the agency to operate facilities it doesn't need and provide unnecessary services.
Is it any wonder it's losing $25 million a day?
The House has yet to weigh in with a bill of its own, but some members already are balking at the Senate version.
Hopefully, the two chambers can reach a commonsense compromise that doesn't bind the Postal Service to a failed business model.