Republicans Seek to Eliminate 'Obamaphone' Program

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When the Republicans determined that ACORN had somehow helped President Obama win the 2008 presidential election, and following a heavily-doctored video prank by James O'Keefe and Andrew Breitbart, the Republicans began a legislative witch hunt that ended with the total eradication of ACORN even though it really hadn't done anything wrong -- other than being conspiratorially associated with the Obama campaign. Oh, and it helped poor people, and Republicans will have none of that.

With the ACORN victory under its belt, the GOP aimed its crosshairs at Planned Parenthood. In this case, it wasn't necessarily because it was associated with the Obama White House, but because of yet another selectively edited and therefore highly deceptive O'Keefe/Breitbart video. The de-funding campaign by the Republicans hasn't yet been successful at the federal level, but Republican-controlled state legislatures are hard at work on the process, too, with successes in Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin -- all of which have cut funding to the organization.

I'm sure you recall a video that circulated around the tubes before the election of an African American woman who was attending a roadside rally for the Obama campaign. In the video, the woman ranted somewhat incoherently about her apparently free "Obamaphone." As soon as Drudge plastered her face above his logo, far-right Republican heads began to immediately explode over the notion of "minorities" receiving free phones from the White House as alleged bribes for volunteerism and votes.

Yesterday, Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark) announced that he and Michele Bachmann were co-sponsoring legislation to eliminate the so-called Obamaphone program.

The calculus is that everyone who votes for hooples like Griffin and Bachmann will believe that taxpayer money is being funneled by President Obama into fancy-shmancy cellphones for lazy, shiftless poor people ("lazy, shiftless" dog whistle words intentional). Why do they get a free iPhone (they don't) when they can't be bothered to get a job? And why do I have to pay for it with my money that I earned?! Makers and takers! Makers and takers!

The truth is that the Lifeline program has been around since 1984 when, that's right, Ronald Reagan helped to create it. In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set up a non-profit outfit called the Universal Service Administrative Company, which receives financial backing via the Universal Service Fund. According to its website, money for the program is contributed entirely by "long distance companies, local telephone companies, wireless telephone companies, paging companies, and payphone providers," and none of the funding comes from taxpayers via the federal government. It's all privately donated money.

Wingnut conspiracy theorists might ask how Reagan could possibly have anything to do with cellphones way back in 1984. Well, some time later, TracPhone Wireless created SafeLink, a cellphone service that was tacked onto the Lifeline program. SafeLink provides the minutes and TracPhone provides the phones. And, again, not a penny in funding comes from the federal government in any way, shape or form -- in the same way that government funding isn't used for Planned Parenthood abortion services. So when exactly did the SafeLink cellphone service begin? 2008, when George W. Bush was president.

Fact: President Obama has nothing to do with the program, that is unless he owns a time-traveling Delorean and traveled back to 1984.

Of course the goal of the program is to make sure low income Americans have access to an affordable telephone in case of emergency or for the job search process. Sure, it's possible that some recipients have abused the service and used it for... who knows what. But there are abuses everywhere. It'd be like shutting down a soup kitchen because a few people went back for seconds of the corn casserole.

Instead of going after oil companies that receive massive taxpayer subsidies while earning record profits and simultaneously charging us high gas prices, the Republicans much prefer demagoguing and eliminating services like Lifeline and ACORN because it'll score them points with their mouth-breathing, racist base. And party is all too willing to flat-out lie to its base in the process, knowing full well that the Drudge-fueled conspiracy theory was thoroughly debunked the second it appeared. But that doesn't matter when there's racial resentment and hatred to be exploited for a few more votes.

And so what happens if they succeed in eliminating the program? The federal budget and the deficit will remain unchanged in its absence; welfare recipients will lose access to affordable phone services making it more difficult to call an ambulance or to get job; and Bachmann and Griffin will get to say they snatched away those evil Obamaphones from evil, lazy and shiftless poor people who probably hate America, too.

By the way, while traditional news media pundits concern-troll the president's recent approval ratings, perhaps they ought to take a good look at what the American people think of the congressional Republicans who only seem motivated to play grabass with legislation like this Griffin/Bachmann bill. Truth be told, the president's approval rating is the same as it was on Election Day: 50 percent, with a 46 percent disapproval rating. The congressional Republicans on the other hand have a 23 percent approval rating and a whopping 72 percent disapproval.

Yeah, I wonder why. Hmm. What could it be?