In September, far-right activists got pretty worked up about a video featuring the “Obamaphone” woman. The gist of the clip was simple: an excited woman supports the president, she said, in large part because Obama helped her afford a cell phone. It was one of the uglier stories of the 2012 campaign, eagerly touted by the far-right.
But while the campaign is over, interest in the issue hasn’t faded just yet.
As Tim Murphy explained yesterday, Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) and some of his friends hope to end a program called “Lifeline,” which provides subsidized phone service to the very poor. The point of the program is to offer these folks a chance to call first responders in the event of an emergency.
It’s true that the program suffered from some fraud, but as Murphy explained, “Griffin ignored the fact that the feds were already reining in the Lifeline program – and the phone companies that exploited it…. Obama isn’t giving everyone free phones. The FCC is already fixing the program.”
I’d just emphasize one angle to the story that’s frequently overlooked: the “Lifeline” program wasn’t even Obama’s idea, so this notion that the president was somehow bribing poor people, trading phones for votes, never made any sense.
Elspeth Reeve’s fact check from last fall always struck me as the definitive piece on the subject.
The universal service requirement dates back at least to the Communications Act of 1934. The Lifeline program specifically was started in 1984 under President Reagan and was expanded in 1996 under President Clinton to allow qualifying households to choose to apply the benefit to either a landline or a cell phone. So no, it’s not an Obama handout.
Shockingly, despite the bipartisan origins of the service, the idea of an “Obama Phone” for the undeserving has existed for a long time.
Thanks to Tim Griffin and his allies, we’ll likely be hearing even more about this in the coming months.