After the Federal Communication Commission reported this week that 41 percent of those receiving free mobile phones don’t meet the requirements — some because they’re dead — the proponents of the so-called “Obama phone” program are firing back. But they still miss the point.
Ever since GOP Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas announced early this week that Lifeline, a free phone service for low-income families that costs taxpayers $2 billion a year, was rife with fraud, conservative lawmakers and pundits alike have jumped on the bandwagon to bash it.
The program’s supporters are now fighting back.
“Allow me to set the record straight,” said Mignon Clyburn, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission according to The Hill. “Without this program, 15 million low-income families would literally be choosing between feeding their children or going without a dial tone that potentially could save their lives and put them on a better economic path.”
Few people would doubt the program’s validity — but that’s not the point being made by Griffin.
The emergency need argument repeated by Clyburn, the daughter of liberal U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., was the same used in 1985 during the Reagan era to push for the program’s passage. But at that time, it was limited strictly to landlines — cellphones weren’t common then.
Twenty years later, during the George W. Bush administration, the FCC added mobile phones to the program, and since then, things have gotten increasingly out of hand.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., known for his periodic “Pork Reports” of government waste, said the program is “ballooning out of control” and has “morphed into a massive entitlement,” according to The Hill.
In much the same vein, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh considers the program, as it’s instituted another push toward government dependency. With the apparent implication that “everyone deserves a cell phone,” it’s hard to argue with that assessment.
Clyburn eventually addressed the fraud issue Friday, announcing that the FCC trimmed $200 million last year. But that’s a far cry from 41 percent of a $2 billion program.
Perhaps it’s time once again to make Lifeline a landline-only program, or make it accessible to cellphones for emergency calls only. That, after all, is what the program was meant to address – emergencies.
Read more at The Hill, and watch Griffin appear “On the Record” with Greta Van Susteren.
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