In a noble effort to craft legislation based on an urban legend, some House Republicans are hoping to eliminate the dreaded “Obamaphone” — known to fact checkers and people who don’t fly into spitty rage at the mention of Barack Obama as the Lifeline program for subsidized phone service for low-income people. Georgia Rep. Austin Scott and 18 of his GOP colleagues are sponsoring the “End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act,” a name that starts off with a lie, since the Lifeline program is funded by surcharges on phone bills, not taxes. And as Ars Technica notes, while the bill would eliminate the current $9.25 monthly subsidy for poor people to get cell service, limiting them to subsidized land lines, it wouldn’t actually save “the taxpayers” anything at all: the service would be eliminated, but the Universal Service Fee on monthly phone bills would remain exactly the same.
Every fact-checker on the planet already sighed, rolled their eyes, and patiently explainered back when “Obamaphone” panic became a thing that the Lifeline program, to help low-income people have phone service, actually started under notorious socialist Ronald Reagan in 1984, and expanded in 1996 by Bill Clinton. In 2008, under George W. “Eat The Rich” Bush, some cellular companies began offering service under Lifeline, since cell phones really are kind of a thing in the modern times of today. But in 2009, wingnuts saw a video with a black lady hooting about the phone Obama bought her, confirming that Barack Obama was creating an army of takers, so … OBAMAPHONES!
So now Rep. Scott and his buddies are going to kill off those wasteful, luxurious $9.25 subsidies for cellular service, so the poor will use land lines like God intended them to. Scott crowed about what a huge favor he was doing for Hardworking Americans (the “white” is silent) in his statement announcing the bill:
Hardworking American taxpayers are already overburdened and should not be forced to pay for a program that has vastly expanded beyond its intended scope and is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse […] My bill will reform the Lifeline Program and restore it to its original purpose of providing landline services and prohibit Universal Service support for mobile services. In order to promote government accountability, cut government fraud and waste, and protect consumers from further increases to their phone bills, the Lifeline Program’s free cell phone plans should end.
While Scott’s announcement does acknowledge the program started in 1984, he nonetheless said he wants to eliminate the “Obama-era free cell phone program.”
Again, nobody is going to save a single thin dime on this, apart perhaps from some administrative costs in eliminating the subsidies. The Universal Service Fee will still be exactly the same, but if it turns out fewer people participate in the program (because it is 2017 and only old farts like Yr Doktor Zoom even have landlines) Scott’s bill would divert any unused Lifeline funds to to “the general fund of the Treasury of the United States, for the sole purpose of deficit reduction.”
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This isn’t the first time around for Scott’s dream of making poors stay home by the landline phone like God and Reagan intended. A similar bill failed last year after opponents said it would limit the ability of poor people to find jobs and do other life stuff. Scott keeps trying, because he knows there’s no political downside to beating up on low-income folks who shouldn’t be allowed even semi-nice things.Donald Trump’s terrible FCC chair Ajit Pai nixed an expansion of the broadband program in March, Scott’s bill doesn’t address the broadband portion of Lifeline, so if this thing somehow passes (who knows? Beating up on Takers is always an R priority), some homes might have 1985 phone service and a cheap broadband connection, which surely can’t be allowed under Scott’s “1985 is the best” paradigm. Expect an amendment requiring any homes using Lifeline to use only text-based interfaces and dia-lup modems, ideally the kind that clamp over the phone handset:
It might eventually get a little spendy to drag all those old Commodore 64 and DOS-based PC clones out of America’s attics for home use by the poors, but it’ll be worth it so those people know their place.
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