Members of Arkansas' congressional delegation are trying to do their jobs, but they and the rest of Congress are making it harder for Postal Service officials to do theirs.

Members of Arkansasí congressional delegation are trying to do their jobs, but they and the rest of Congress are making it harder for Postal Service officials to do theirs.

The Postal Service is the arm of the federal government that runs like a business in that it sustains itself not on tax dollars but on sales, and sales are down.

This year it had a $10 billion deficit, in large part because its business model is becoming obsolete, thanks to e-mail. In the past, the post office was the only means of transporting a message or package over long distances. Now its only needed service is physically delivering an item that canít be faxed or digitized and doesnít absolutely, positively have to be there overnight.

Postal officials recognize that the world has changed and, like any business would, are trying to cut costs by reducing staff, ending Saturday delivery and closing 3,653 post offices. In Arkansas, 179 were targeted for closure, though 15 are off the list for now.

In other words, the post office needs to reduce its deficit by cutting government services. Which, as we all have learned by now, rarely just happens. Under pressure from members of Congress, the Postal Service is temporarily suspending all closings from Nov. 19 until Jan. 2, according to a letter it sent to Rep. Mike Rossís office.

Members of Arkansasí delegation are among those applying the pressure.

Last Thursday, Sen. Mark Pryor was among a 9-1 majority in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approving a bill allowing the Postal Service to offer early retirement incentives and negotiate new health care benefits with employees.

Thatís good, but the bill also would guarantee Saturday mail delivery for two years, and it would require the Postal Service to consider alternatives to post office closings and take into account the need to serve isolated areas.

Meanwhile, two members of the delegation have their names on measures that would prohibit some of the proposed closures. Rep. Rick Crawford, who represents the 1st District, where many of the targeted offices are located, has introduced a bill, the Protecting Our Rural Post Offices Act of 2011, which would prevent the shuttering of post offices if none other exist within eight driving miles. Sen. John Boozman has cosponsored a bill prohibiting closures of post offices that would result in a distance of more than 10 miles between two post offices.

Arkansas is a rural state, so its understandable that our representatives are opposing the closures. They have a responsibility to at least ask if other cost-cutting measures can be tried. Some senior citizens receive their prescriptions and Social Security checks by mail, including on Saturdays. Crawford says that closing rural post offices would save only $200 million per year, a fraction of what is needed.

But you canít cut government spending without actually cutting government spending, and if the post office canít pay its bills, then it will have to be bailed out by the taxpayers. (Well, future ones because weíre not paying our bills now). If the country is unwilling to make even these minor cost-saving measures during an era of annual $1.3 trillion budget deficits, how will it address the massive shortfalls that will occur in Medicare and Social Security as the baby boomers retire? This seems doable by comparison.

Moreover, many Arkansans live eight miles from a lot of important things: grocery stores, schools, medical clinics (which, by the way, also often are closed on Saturdays). That can be inconvenient, but they arrange their lives to make it work. Canít arrangements be made to make this work as well? For example, can the pills be mailed a day earlier?

I grew up in a house that was nestled along the boundary of the Wynne city limits and a cow pasture. I wouldnít consider it country living, but many people would.

There are many advantages to that lifestyle. Fences are far apart. No one knocks on your door with a petition because you install a basketball goal in the driveway or park a car in the front yard. And is there a more peaceful life experience than a nighttime country stroll beneath a blanket of stars amidst the chirping of crickets and the crackling of the gravel road beneath your footsteps?

City folks donít have that life. They do have post offices within eight miles, though it might take 45 minutes to get to them.

Driving nine or 10 miles to get to a post office ó that seems a reasonable tradeoff for the benefits of country living. Ending Saturday delivery ó that seems a reasonable tradeoff to help keep the post office from going broke at a time when the federal government is already broke.

People make choices about where they live and how they navigate their lives. Congress should let the Postal Service make choices as well, like any business would when times change and it starts losing money.

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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas.