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Friday, February 8, 2013 - Page updated at 03:30 p.m.

Editorial: No Saturday mail just a start

POSTMASTER General Patrick Donahoe knows what to expect if Saturday mail delivery ends in August as he proposes. Virtually no one will notice.

Harrumphing on Capitol Hill is about the only response to Donahoe’s announcement on Wednesday. Congress may not like the plan, but in a familiar pattern, the institution could not get its act together to pass legislation preventing it.

The Postal Service is hemorrhaging money with a $15.9 billion loss in 2012, three times the $5.1 billion the year before. Halting Saturday delivery of everything but packages, a service with modest growth, might save $2 billion.

Total mail volume in 2012 decreased 21 percent from 2008. Newspapers and magazines and other periodicals would not be delivered on Saturdays.

The undermining of journalism began long before Donahoe’s announcement of an end to Saturday service. The U.S. Postal Service offers generous discounts for direct-mail advertising.

Those subsidies enrich mass mailers and take a toll on the financial stability of news outlets of all sizes. Periodical delivery was down 22 percent between 2008 and 2012.

The Postal Service is dogged by more than a sustained down economy, growth of the Internet, online bill paying and a decline in personal correspondence. Pension and retiree health-benefit payments have caused a flood tide of red ink.

Those finances have doubled back on workers, forcing the closure or consolidation of hundreds of processing centers, and job cuts and early retirements that claimed tens of thousands of positions.

The announced August end to Saturday deliveries only compounds the doubts about the relevance and dependability of the mail system.

The U.S. Postal Service should narrow and focus its service to a few categories: small packages, magazines, newspapers and first-class mail. Quit competing with other lines of business and subsidizing their competition. Deliver the mail and get out of the advertising business.

Congress can grumble and mumble about whether the U.S. Postal Service has the legal authority to follow through on its Saturday plans. The failure of lawmakers to deliver timely budgets and coherent legislation just gets such rhetoric stamped “return to sender.”

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