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Will Saturday cuts save the Postal Service?

Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe announced plans to reduce Saturday deliveries beginning in August. The Postal Service says the changes will save $2 billion annually. Though The Postal Service lost $15.9 billion last fiscal year, some in Congress and elsewhere oppose the Saturday cutbacks. 

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The proposed change is based on what appears to be a legal loophole — and that may be a gamble. Congress has long included a ban on five-day-only delivery in its spending bills, but because the federal government is now operating under a temporary spending measure rather than an appropriations bill, Donahoe says it's the agency's interpretation that it can make the change itself.

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"This is not like a 'gotcha' or anything like that," he said. The agency essentially wants Congress to keep the ban out of any new spending bill after the temporary measure expires March 27.

Might Congress try to block the idea?

"Let's see what happens," he said. "I can't speak for Congress."

Two Republican lawmakers said they had sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate in support of the elimination of Saturday mail. It's "common-sense reform," wrote Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich called it "bad news for Alaskans and small business owners" who he said need timely delivery to rural areas.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was disappointed, questioned the savings estimate and worried the loss of Saturday service might drive customers away.

"The Postal Service is the linchpin of a $1 trillion mailing and mail-related industry that employs more than 8 million Americans in fields as diverse as direct mail, printing, catalog companies, magazine and newspaper publishing and paper manufacturing," she said. "A healthy Postal Service is not just important to postal customers but also to our national economy."

She noted that the Senate last year passed a bill that would have stopped the postal service from eliminating Saturday service for at least two years and required it to try two years of aggressive cost cutting instead.

The House didn't pass a bill.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday, "I think trying to act in this postal area is pretty difficult. But I understand where the postal commission is coming from. They're in charge with running thepost office, but yet the Congress, in its wisdom, has tied their hands every which way in order for them to actually run the post office in a revenue neutral way."

"And so Congress needs to act, there's no question about that, and I hope we'll act soon."

President Barack Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said the White House learned only Tuesday about the agency's decision to cut Saturday service. He said the White House is still evaluating the decision but would have preferred its own comprehensive overhaul package that failed to pass Congress last year be adopted "for the sake of a stronger future Postal Service."

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