"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people...They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." ~Thomas Jefferson

Who's really to blame? - Obamaphones

(LfL is going to start a series “Who’s really to blame?” to deal with political topics that are discussed with minimal factual background.  Typically, it is a current hot topic that just leads to charges and counter-charges by the two political teams.  Both sides line up and cheer their team on and complain that the other team is lying instead of learning the background of the issue.)

Our first topic - ObamaPhones!

Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have had a field day today by playing the video of the Romney protester/Obama supporter in Ohio who bragged about her free “ObamaPhone” and how many poor people were given free cell phones by President Obama.

It certainly plays into the narrative of Big Government Gone Wild and a President who proudly declares that he wants to redistribute wealth.

Did President Obama issue an Executive Order and have one of his Czars grab federal money to start handing out free cell phones to poor people?  No.

Okay, then Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi must have passed a law during the first two years of President Obama’s term, when they controlled Congress, and the President proudly signed a bill to hand out free cell phones to poor people, right?  Well, again, No.

Wait a minute.  How does a poor person (in PA: individual under $15,080, a family of four under $31,118) get a “free premium phone” with 250 minutes a month?

If President Obama did not use executive power, and Reid, Pelosi and the President did not pass a law, Who’s really to blame?

 

 An August 2008 press release proudly announced the start of the SafeLink Wireless program in the state of Tennessee:

Today, TracFone Wireless, Inc., America's leading prepaid cell phone provider announced its launch of SafeLink Wireless(R) in Tennessee. SafeLink Wireless will serve as the company's distribution of Lifeline - a U.S. government supported program for income eligible households that ensures telephone service is available and affordable for eligible low income households.

The SafeLink Wireless service will provide eligible low-income households a free cell phone…

A recent study ("Cell Phones Provide Significant Economic Gains for Low-Income American Households," April 2008) analyzed the impact of mobile phones on low-income households. "In this day and age, the cell phone should be deemed an imperative necessity for the millions of low-income families who are far less likely to own them," said Nicholas P. Sullivan, the study's author and visiting scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Our study showed cell phones can significantly boost the earning potential of these communities, and this connectivity vastly encourages their opportunities and remains central to their everyday survival," Sullivan stressed.

The study also revealed the cell phone is a critical component for personal safety, access to emergency services, and can potentially increase a low-income family's economic productivity and earning power."

2008.  An election year.  Obama was running against McCain.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act established the “Universal Safety Fund” which expanded subsidies for land-line phone service.  A more informal program was established with the 1934 Telecommunications Act.  Here is the Federal Communications Commission announcement about the legislation.

1996 – President Clinton (Democrat); House of Representatives (Republican); and Senate (Republican).

However, this bill only helped to provide subsidies for poor people’s land line phones.  As cell phone technology exploded, this was not “fair”.

So we come to the Telecommunications Act of 2005.  This expanded the SafeLink program to include free cell phones.  Of course, it was another huge bill which was called the “Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005”.  Who can oppose that, right?

Here is who voted for it:

5/18/2006 - Passed in the Senate by unanimous consent which means no Republicans opposed the bill.

6/7/2006 – Passed in the House 379-35

6/15/2006 – Signed into law by President Bush

The entire PA House Delegation voted 'yes':

(Blue = Dem, Red = Blue, italicized = no longer in office)

Brady

Dent

English

Fattah

Fitzpatrick

Gerlach

Holden

Kanjorski

Murtha

Peterson

Pitts

Platts

Schwartz

Shuster

Weldon

Of course, supporters claimed (and claim) that the taxpayers do not pay for these phones.  Yet, look on your phone bills.  You will find something like a "Universal fee charge".  That is the fee mandated by Congress to pay for this program.  So, isn't a "fee" mandated by Congress simply a tax?  And if they make those who work pay this fee, to give free phones and service to poor people, is that not a form of income redistribution?  It's good to know that many Republicans believe in "redistribution" when it comes to phones.

So, perhaps instead of “ObamaPhones” these free cell phones given to poor people should be called “Bi-partisan, Big Government Progressive, Phones”.  But during an election cycle, that isn’t a neat little sound-bite, even though it is an accurate statement.

Or as FactCheck.org concludes:

The president has no direct impact on the program, and one could hardly call these devices "Obama Phones," as the e-mail author does. This specific program, SafeLink, started under President George Bush, with grants from an independent company created under President Bill Clinton, which was a legacy of an act passed under President Franklin Roosevelt, which was influenced by an agreement reached between telecommunications companies and the administration of President Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson Phones, anyone?"

Who’s really to blame?  Since the Republicans controlled the House and Senate in 1996 and all of Washington in 2005, you can draw your own conclusions.  Or you can continue to make excuses if you are merely a loyal team fan… But it is another example of the relentless growth of government and programs no matter who is in charge and no matter who is elected.

 

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