What would I do without the United States Postal Service? Today’s mail brought me an offer of “big savings” with Geico insurance, a plea for money from Maine Public Broadcasting, a (depressing) chance to join AARP (including a membership card and the promise of a free insulated travel bag), an L.L. Bean promotion, a 2012 Maine Tree Survey from the Arbor Day Foundation, and a card from Michelle Obama with a beautiful full color photo of the First Family.

I also got my pay from MaineToday Media for writing this column. I knew there was a reason I went out to the mailbox!

Rural free delivery is anything but. Today, receipt of a letter with a real 45-cent stamp attached to the envelope is cause for celebration.

And despite the high costs to mailers, the Postal Service has lost more than $13 billion in the last two years. The Postal Service’s unique position, not quite a private business, not quite a government program, leaves its future in the hands of the Congress — a body that is quite familiar with the concept of deficit spending. But can they run a business?

To state that we should fear for the future of the U.S. Postal Service is pointing out the obvious — just as we fear for the future of our nation.

The concept of universal mail and telephone service made rural life easier — indeed, possible. Communications systems, however, have changed dramatically. Our state has moved effectively to assure that nearly every part of the state has fast Internet service. Do we still need slow mail service?

As first-class mail volume plummeted 26 percent in the last six years, the Postal Service’s revenue was reduced from $72.8 billion to $65.7 billion. The Postal Service came up with a plan to address this problem, including closing thousands of rural post offices, increasing prices and eliminating Saturday delivery.

That, of course, was entirely unsatisfactory to members of Congress, who heard loud and clear from their constituents. Since we’ve become a nation of economic imbeciles who think we can perpetually get government services without paying for them, this response to the Postal Service’s plans is not surprising.

I noted in this morning’s KJ that FedEx is offering buyouts to U.S. employees to reduce costs and address the weakening global economy, and UPS also is making cuts. Et tu, U.S. Postal Service?

Well, maybe not, because here comes the Congress to the rescue, sort of. Maine Sen. Susan Collins has been a key player and one of four key sponsors of a bipartisan bill enacted three months ago. The House of Representatives has yet to act.

I don’t fault Collins for her effort, but more questions ought to be asked.

The good senator, for example, reversed the Postal Service’s decision to close the Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Facility in Hampden, which she said also would have ended reliable overnight delivery service in the north country. Given that we haven’t had reliable overnight delivery — anywhere — for a long time, I was surprised to learn this.

Unable to ignore the fact that 80 percent of the Postal Service’s costs are work force-related, Collins wrote, “finding a compassionate way to reduce these costs is simply unavoidable.” She also said, “The last thing the Postal Service needs is to drive more customers out of the mail. … We need to help put the Postal Service on solid financing footing, not only to help protect the nearly 38,000 Mainers who work in jobs related to mailing industry.”

She also reported that Congress must make sure that “taxpayers are not left holding the bag.” Well, it wouldn’t be a bag of mail we’d be left with, that’s for sure.

I must be one of the last people who still writes and mails letters. Linda and I mail thank-you notes to the inns and restaurants we visit for our travel column, and I like to surprise people every once in a while with a letter of thanks for something they did for me or others.

I also value the service of my rural mail delivery person. I’ve had some great ones in our 33 years here in Mount Vernon, including Bob Bean for many years and now Tenley Kent. Tenley’s vehicle is a post office on wheels.

I rarely use the Mount Vernon Post Office and would hardly notice if it was closed. But don’t mess with Tenley and my delivery service! Alas, I guess I’m part of the problem.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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