U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who has relentlessly positioned himself as the antithesis of President Barack Obama, sent out an email last week asking constituents to help him end "free cellphones for welfare recipients." The email said, "Click here to go to my Facebook page and click 'like' to support our fight to end Obama phones." His missive later referred to "the Obama cellphone welfare program."
Not mentioned by Vitter: The U.S. government has been subsidizing phone service for low-income Americans for nearly three decades — long before Obama's presidency. In 1985, under Republican President Ronald Reagan, Congress created a discount for low-income Americans' home phone service. In 1997, under Democratic President Bill Clinton, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the "Universal Service Fund," which pays for this subsidy, among others (most phone companies pass this on to their customers as a line item on the monthly bill). And in 2005, under Republican President George W. Bush, the FCC broadened the discount to include not just landlines, but cellphones.
Vitter had tacked on his legislation to end cellphone subsidies as an amendment to a budget resolution bill in the Senate last week, where it failed 46-53 (Louisiana's other senator, Mary Landrieu, voted against ending the subsidies).
In his email, however, sent the day after the amendment was torpedoed, Vitter indicated the fight against "Obama's" subsidy wasn't over: "Rest assured, I will be trying to end the Obama phone bonanza with a stand-alone bill," Vitter wrote, "But I need your help." — Kevin Allman