By Ed O’Keefe
The Senate embarks this week on one of the most politically treacherous issues it will face this year: What to do about the future of the U.S. Postal Service.
The debate over USPS’s future is poised to pit lawmakers from smaller, rural states against colleagues from larger, more urban areas. It puts close friends Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on opposing sides and sets up labor unions and business groups with vested interests in mail delivery against the reality that more Americans today rely on the Internet than on envelopes and stamps.
The cash-strapped Postal Service sits at the cornerstone of the $1 trillion mailing industry that employs more than 8.5 million people nationwide. The mail agency operates like a private business, but universal mail delivery is a constitutional mandate, making how and when mail is delivered and paid for a congressional concern. The fate of USPS also is tied to the federal budget, because the agency pays into federal retirement and health-care accounts to compensate active and retired postal workers.