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Rep. Marsha Blackburn: Did Boston Terrorist Have an Obamaphone?

Phillip Dampier April 25, 2013 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 10 Comments
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee)

House Republicans pulled out all the stops on Capitol Hill today criticizing the Lifeline subsidy program that provides low-cost phone service to the poor, including one congresswoman questioning whether Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev received a free cell phone after newspaper accounts suggested he had previously received welfare benefits.

“I even had one constituent [ask] after it came out that the…terrorists that committed the bombings in Boston were receiving welfare benefits, were they in this program? I think those are the kind of questions that our constituents are asking,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked at a House hearing on the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline program.

Several Republicans criticized the program for handing out free or low-cost cell phones some conservative critics have dubbed “Obamaphones” without much eligibility verification.

Blackburn complained the cost of the program has ballooned in cost over the last 29 years.

“When the Lifeline program was introduced in 1984, it only cost the government $380 million a year. Now that has increased to $2.2 billion,” Blackburn said. “This is the kind of explosive growth this program has seen.”

The House Republican-led investigation is unlikely to net any real changes to the program, but Democratic critics have charged Republicans with playing politics with the poor.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) added some critics have made up myths about the program to score political points.

“Here are the facts: President Obama did not create Lifeline, the government does not give away free cellphones or iPads, nowhere in America except in Tennessee do they call it an ‘Obama phone,’ and eliminating the Lifeline program — or disqualifying wireless services — would not reduce our nation’s budget deficit by a single penny,” Waxman said.

Currently there are 10 comments on this Article:

  1. Bob in Illinois says:

    Cleveland loves the Obamaphone, Henry Waxman!!
    so says this famous woman.
    “Everybody in Cleveland, all minorities got an Obamaphone!”

    see this link

    Obama has GREATLY expanded the program since he entered office. That’s why it’s known as the Obamaphone to both his fans and non-fans

    • Dave Hancock says:

      Bob, You need to get your FACTS straight. According to PolitiFact:

      “The term “Obama phones” has been attached to Lifeline since at least late 2009, when PolitiFact rated as Mostly False a chain email claim that Obama was giving away free phones. More famously, a viral video during the 2012 presidential campaign showed an Obama supporter saying “Everybody in Cleveland — low (income), minority — got Obama phones.” Soon after, PolitiFact gave a Florida state official a Pants on Fire rating for saying the Obama campaign was giving out phones.”


      • Bob in Illinois says:

        Which of my facts are wrong? I had no facts wrong in my response.

        Snopes gives a mixed True/False to the Obamaphone controversy.

        Some companies were giving bounties to sales people(who went to inner city neighborhoods to push the program) for every phone that they could sign up. That’s why some people on the program have multiple phones.

        And, YES, the Obama Administration has greatly expanded the program, from 7 million to over 12 million. (found at the end of the Snopes article).
        The cost has exploded over the years, because now people get smartphone cell phones. In the early days of the program, they would get slight reductions on their hard wire telephone bills.

        Obamaphones fact and fiction:

        • Dave Hancock says:

          Well, I note that the Snopes piece declares the claims about Obamaphones that “The Obama administration created a program to provide free cell phones and service to welfare recipients.” to be FALSE! What is true is that there is a government program (under Ronald Reagen!).

          As to your link to the Washington Times Communities piece: I note that the Times has the following disclaimer:

          “Who We Are

          This is the Communities at WashingtonTimes.com. Individual contributors are responsible for their content, which is not edited by The Washington Times. The opinions of Communities writers do not necessarily reflect nor are they endorsed by the Washington Times.”

          So this is strictly an OPINION piece written by Oleg Atbashian, a Ukrainian “with a loyal conservative/libertarian following”. He is noted for writing SATIRE!

          Incidentally, the Washington Times is not exactly the most reliable source on earth, having been founded by Sun Myung Moon of Unification Church fame.


          • Bob in Illinois says:

            1) I never said that Obama created the program. His administration has greatly expanded the program to cellphones. The $ spent has ballooned. Carlos Slim is being enriched by this program.

            2) I am greatly amused that you discovered that the Washington Times piece was Satire. That was my point, and thought a little levity was needed in this discussion.

            • Dave Hancock says:

              I thought that James Curry’s comments were MUCH better!

              • I think the Obamaphone meme was particularly hot during the 2012 presidential campaign, around which time that bizarre video linked above turned up. I am highly suspicious of these videos because the producers frequently have their own political agenda.

                However, as we just saw in Sprint’s quarterly earnings call, there has been rampant abuse in this program with a lot of phones going to unqualified recipients. Most of the time it seems to be multiple phones going to a single person or household. My guess is providers were performing cursory (if any) checks to see if a household already had a phone. The hurdle to produce qualifying documentation to begin with is harder for most, so I doubt a lot of phones were handed out to just anyone.

                This entire effort was sure to rile up older Americans who still see cell phones as a costly luxury item, even if they can buy similar prepaid phones in the store for $10-15. Plus, 250 airtime minutes a month isn’t costing carriers that much either. But the government needs to get the checks and balances in place before the free for all that we all pay for.

                I wrote about this two years ago when I first learned of the program and shuddered at the optics of it back then. I would be proved right.

                I do support giving Lifeline customers the option of getting discounted broadband instead. It can help improve educational opportunities that will hopefully lift the next generation out of these programs. But perhaps shaming the incumbent providers to do it on their dime instead of ours would be a better first option.

                • txpatriot says:

                  I think Obama is being unfairly criticized for the “Obamaphone” and I say that as a Conservative Republican.

                  Having been in telecom over thirty years, I am well aware that Lifeline was established by the FCC during the Reagan Administration, expanded to wireless by the FCC under the Bush II Administration, and reformed by the FCC under Obama.

                  FWIW: the FCC is an independent federal agency, it is not considered part of the Administration. Although the Commissioners are appointed by the President, the Agency itself reports directly to Congress. So if anyone has complaints about Lifeline, those complaints s/b directed to the FCC and Congress, NOT the President.

                  In fact, the FCC under Obama recently reformed Lifeline to stem the abuse. We should give the reforms a chance to work before abandoning the program.

                  The REAL abuse is in the perverse incentives to prepaid providers. They can get more $$ from the gov’t for each phone + minutes than it costs them to provide. Hence the phone is free to end users, and the pre-paid provider pockets the difference.

                  A gross abuse of the free market, but those carriers are acting in their own self-interest, which should surprise no one.

  2. James R Curry says:

    Breaking: Boston Bombers may have driven on roads that your tax dollars paid for.

    Story at 11.

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