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More work to do; Supporters of air base, postal facility will have time to step up the pressure

A reprieve is good, but it's not the same as preservation. What we are getting is breathing room needed to come up with plans that ensure the William Street mail processing center in Buffalo and the Air National Guard unit based in Niagara Falls remain open and active for years to come.

Thursday the House Armed Services Committee approved legislation that would preserve that Air Guard unit, and all others across the country, for at least one year. Senior lawmakers from both parties pushed the amendment, which means it has a good chance of passing the full House. If the Senate and President Obama agree, we can exhale.

But not breathe easy.

The same goes for the Buffalo postal facility. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe informed Sen. Charles E. Schumer this week that the William Street facility -- honored for its efficiency but unaccountably scheduled to close anyway -- would remain open for at least another three years.

These are important developments for Western New York, representing 700 postal jobs and 845 positions at the air base. But the case for keeping these facilities open isn't mere job protection. The William Street mail processing center and the air base have repeatedly demonstrated their worth, even with the military and Postal Service needing to cut their costs.

The air unit is under threat because Washington, necessarily, is looking to reconfigure the military both to reduce costs and to be more suited to 21st century threats. But in doing so, the military misjudged the role of the 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and also failed to account for the role the National Guard plays in responding to disasters in the states where they are based. Governors across the country howled at the proposed cuts, understanding that the elimination of those units would hobble their ability to respond to emergencies.

The post office, meanwhile, is under financial assault from the Internet, which cut deeply into the bone of the Postal Service's business model. There is no doubt it needs to respond, but it needs to do so in a logical, planned way that increases efficiency. What it had proposed was haphazard.

Congress can use that reprieve to drop its insistence that the post office prefund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years. That, alone, costs the Postal Service $5.5 billion a year.

It is impossible to ignore the election calendar in considering the wide support for the National Guard and post offices. Every House seat is up for election this year, along with one-third of those in the Senate.

With 5,100 Guard positions on the line around the country, and the Postal Service also under the gun, these are issues that affect broad swaths of the electorate and, for all the Republican complaints about government spending, they can be as easily swayed as any Democrat when local jobs are on the line.

But that also means that temporary reprieves will kick these issues out of a presidential election year, when it may be more difficult to muster support. That's why it is critical for the regional federal delegation to continue gathering data bolstering the case for keeping the William Street center and the Niagara Falls air base open and fully staffed.

What all of this means is that, at best, supporters have a chance to work on these matters in a frying pan rather than a pressure cooker. The threats remain and will require the best efforts of all concerned.