Americans want their government to work

Colorado mail carriers, protesting proposed budget cuts that would eliminate Saturday mail delivery, are asking Congress to do something sensible: Quit zigzagging from debt ceiling to shutdown to sequester, and devise an actual plan.

According to the Associated Press, "Postal Service workers rallied Saturday in Denver, saying mail carriers need legislation that guarantees six-day delivery so that they don't have to continue facing temporary budget fixes every six months, five months or four months as they have been for several years."

What an innovative idea!

The purpose of cutting Saturday delivery was to cut costs, mainly payroll costs, although vehicle expenses also would be reduced. Even if Congress backs away from its September end date, six-day delivery probably is not salvageable over the long term. First-class mail volume simply has dropped too far, and firms like FedEx, UPS and others have captured much of the parcel business.

But dropping Saturdays doesn't address the systemic pension problem that plagues the United States Postal Service, and Congress so far has declined to address that, as it has declined, or failed, to address so many other issues.

Workers don't know how long their jobs will last, or whether they'll face pay cuts or furloughs. People served by government and quasi-government agencies don't know how they'll be served going forward - and that affects a great deal more than the much-maligned "entitlements." Food inspectors, air-traffic controllers and military personnel are good examples, as are people whose businesses depend on timely mail delivery.

Sequestration caught people's attention for a short time, until everyone found their balance and decided that the cuts, although onerous in places, were survivable. Now no one talks much about it, which means they aren't discussing the fact that sequestration was intended as a stick to force Congress to do its job. It was never supposed to be a rational set of budget decisions. That our elected representatives seem willing to let it stand is not a heartening sign.

The legislative branch of our government seems to alternate between two tactics. The first is paralysis, in which no decisions are made because the results legislators want are not available to them through the democratic process. Don't like the options? Then don't let any of them come to a vote. Just say no and call that intransigence "principle."

The other is a series of dramatic pendulum swings between extremes, with no pause in the middle where most Americans dwell both philosophically and practically. The loudest (and often most irrational) voices get the most attention, and voters' attempts to guide what happens in Washington (or Denver) often serve only to substitute the opposite brand of dissatisfaction. Everybody is unhappy at least half the time, but moderates - as well as middle-class Americans who go to work every day, including postal workers - are poorly served almost all the time.

It's past time to try the middle road - some tax increases where they make sense, some cuts where waste really exists (and it does, often with lobbyists to defend it), and a set of sensible policies that allow Americans to have some idea of which direction their government is headed. That, of course, presumes that it's headed somewhere.

Saturday mail delivery aside, the mail carriers are right: Plan for the long term, not just until the next emergency measure becomes necessary. For both parties to insist on their current relationship is not only nonsensical, it's harmful to the constituents they claim to represent.