Making good on his promise to use the “pen and phone” strategy to circumvent Republican stonewalling of his agenda, President Obama’s next move via executive order may be the most radical change to the election system since women and minorities were allowed to vote. In the next few weeks, the president is expected to issue an executive order to circumvent the massive, coordinated assault on voting rights in many swing states which have included reducing voting precincts and voting hours, which disproportionately affects the working poor and the elderly. Ohio Governor Kasich signed legislation in February which eliminated same day voter registration, 6 days of early voting, and the mailing of absentee ballots to all registered voters.
Obama will sign an executive order introducing a new voting system in which all Lifeline (also known in the conservative media as “Obama phone”) subscribers will be able to vote via text messaging on their government-issued cell phones. Not a registered voter? Now when you sign up for an Obama phone, you’ll automatically be registered to vote. Can’t get to a polling place because you’re disabled or you can’t find a babysitter? No problem. Now with your Obama phone, you can easily text your vote to an 800 number without leaving the comfort of your home.
Of course, if you’ve read past the headline, you’d know that this is satire. But far too many people will read the headline alone and pass it along as proof in conservative circles that President Obama is a “radical Kenyan socialist communist Nazi Muslim” intent on allowing
lazy black people on welfare to vote for Democrats.
However, let’s go ahead and debunk some of the conservative talking points surrounding the “Obama phone.” From the FCC’s page:
Since 1985, the Lifeline program has provided a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family and emergency services. In 2005, Lifeline discounts were made available to qualifying low-income consumers on pre-paid wireless service plans in addition to traditional landline service. Lifeline is part of the Universal Service Fund. (Source)
Guess who was in the Oval Office in 1985? Reagan. Guess who was in the Oval Office in 2005? George W. Bush. So let’s go ahead and call it the “Bush phone” because that’s the president it was introduced under. While there was an increase in people using the program in 2008 to 2010, that was as a result of many Americans being out of work during the Bush recession.
Another false narrative about the Lifeline program would have you believe that welfare queens sit around in nail and hair salons all day playing Candy Crush on an iPhone. Again, that is false:
…in 2005 – under the Bush II Administration – the FCC recognized changing technology and usage patterns and expanded the program to provide cell phones to qualified low-income households. Contrary to the false statements that have been thrown out by pundits, there are no “unlimited” cell phone plans; the Lifeline program provides poor households with 250 minutes per month of cell phone access. (Source)
“But cell phones are a luxury!” is another talking point often used in opposition to the program. Sure, 15 years ago cell phones were a luxury, and quite expensive. Today, they’re quite common and affordable for most people, but if you really can’t afford a phone plan, that’s where the Lifeline program comes in. You get a basic phone which allows you to talk and text on a limited basis which is absolutely necessary to someone trying to find employment. You’re not getting a free iPhone or the latest Samsung Galaxy, you’re getting the bare bones minimum phone which wouldn’t even have been state of the art when Lifeline was expanded in 2005.
“Lifeline is an unfair tax on hardworking people!” is yet another rant you’ll hear from the daily Fox News viewer. Again, that is false. From AT&T’s website:
The Federal Universal Service Fund (USF), created by the federal government, is designed to help ensure first-class, affordable telecommunications service for all consumers across the country, especially residents in high-cost rural communities and low-income customers. Additionally, the Federal USF provides for discounted communications services for schools, libraries and rural healthcare facilities. All telecommunications providers are required to pay into the Federal USF, and their contributions may be recovered from customers. (Source)
In a nutshell, telecom companies are required by law to provide services to all Americans, regardless of where they live or how little their income is. The law does allow those companies to pass on the cost to their customers, and many of them choose to do. From the FCC’s website again:
Because telephones provide a vital link to emergency services, to government services and to surrounding communities, it has been our nation’s policy to promote telephone service to all households since this service began in the 1930s. The USF helps to make phone service affordable and available to all Americans, including consumers with low incomes, those living in areas where the costs of providing telephone service is high, schools and libraries and rural health care providers. Congress has mandated that all telephone companies providing interstate service must contribute to the USF. Although not required to do so by the government, many carriers choose to pass their contribution costs on to their customers in the form of a line item, often called the “Federal Universal Service Fee” or “Universal Connectivity Fee”. (Source)
I have 4 lines on my personal cell phone account and I pay the whopping total of $1.31 a month for the Universal Service Fee. If you’re that outraged over a fee that small that helps people have a basic communication device, your priorities are all wrong. And if you’re gullible enough to post this article as “proof” of voter fraud, government abuse or President Obama subverting the Constitution in order to run for a third term, you might just get your disinformation from Fox News.
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