Peter DeFazio (Flickr/Oregon DOT)

Congressman Peter DeFazio has always been a stalwart defender of the United States Postal Service. As a veteran lawmaker and one of its most determined advocates for public services in the House, he knows that the postal service is an essential asset. But he also knows that the USPS “is in a financial death spiral, caused largely by congressional and bureaucratic ineptitude and inaction.”

“Over 70 percent of USPS financial losses are due to a Congressional mandate to prefund retiree healthcare for future employees for the next 75 years. This requires the post office to prefund the healthcare of future employees that have not yet been born. This is stupid and unacceptable,” explains DeFazio .“Rather than avoiding this financial crisis they face, USPS bureaucrats have only offered short-sighted proposals that fail to address their long-term issues and would accelerate the demise of the Postal Service.”

The congressman has battled the bureaucrats with some success. Along with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan, DeFazio was in the forefront of the successful fight to block the postmaster general’s wrongheaded proposal to end Saturday mail delivery. He even found some rural Republican allies for that skirmish.

But the Oregon Democrat knows it’s going to take more than defensive moves by Congress to save the USPS.

To that end, DeFazio has introduced the Postal Service Protection Act, a detailed proposal to “sustain the postal service, avoid unnecessary closures that hurt rural communities, and save American jobs.”

Now, he wants to up the ante by enlisting President Obama in the struggle—or, to be more precise, he’s come up with a strategy to get the president more engaged with saving the postal service.

Obama has sent some good signals; indeed, his budget borrows ideas advanced by Sanders and DeFazio for making the USPS more competitive.

But the congressman is right to want the president to play a more pivotal role in saving post offices and sorting centers, rural routes and urban facilities, from a death by slow cuts. The stronger and louder the support from Obama, the greater the likelihood that the Postal Service Protection Act—which has the potential to gain support from disengaged Democrats and reluctant Republicans—could be enacted.

So DeFazio has taken the rare step—as a congressman—of posting a petition on the Obama administration’s “We the People” website.

DeFazio’s “Save the Postal Service-Save American Jobs” petition reads:

About 80% of USPS financial losses since 2007 are due to a Congressional mandate to prefund 75 years of future retiree health benefits over 10 years. In 2012 USPS lost a record $15.9 billion, but $11.1 billion of that loss went to prefund healthcare. This must change.

USPS shouldn’t move to 5-day delivery. This would only save 3%, risk further revenue losses, and slow mail delivery.

USPS needs to re-establish overnight delivery standards to ensure the timely delivery of mail and prevent the closure of mail plants.

USPS needs to generate more revenue by ending a 2006 ban prohibiting USPS from offering new products and services.

Does the Administration support HR 630 and S 316 to make these changes, save American jobs, and allow USPS to remain competitive?

To get a formal response from the White House, the petition must gather 100,000 signatures by May 23.

Almost 20,000 people have already signed. But now it’s crunch time.

“If you support the postal service and want Congress and the White House to consider legislation that would fix the serious financial challenges it faces,” says DeFazio, “please sign the petition and tell your friends to as well.”

President Obama faces plenty of pressures these days, but this is one intervention he can and should make on behalf of American workers and communities.

The USPS cannot take many more cuts. Nor can it shoulder the financial burden that’s been imposed on it. This is a time for urgency. And Peter DeFazio, with his White House petition, has figured out how to focus the energy that is needed to beat the proponents of privatization and to save an essential public service.

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