Obamaphones? No, just a big government program out of control

posted at 6:41 pm on March 19, 2014 by Kevin Glass

The controversial “Obamaphone” program – actually “Lifeline” – that made its way through the news cycle in 2012 is actually a program that has been in place for a long time, and despite progressives’ protestations to the contrary, is real. Now, the Mercatus Center of George Mason University is out with a study of the Lifeline program – and perspective on how the program has grown out of control in the Obama era and how it can be reformed.

First, some background: a woman at an anti-Romney rally told a videographer that she received a free phone courtesy of President Obama, which caused a wave of consternation in the progressive media. Here are the facts: the Federal Communications Commission levies a fee on telecommunications providers that go into what’s called the Universal Service Fund.” You may have seen charges for this separated out into a separate line on your bill. After all, the fees levied by the government are never paid by “corporations,” but by actual customers – you. The Universal Service Fund pays for a whole host of government programs and services, but one of them is called Lifeline. Lifeline pays for free or subsidized phone service for eligible low-income Americans, and in 2005 the program was expanded to wireless as well as wireline phones. Should they be called BushPhones?

Spending on the Lifeline program has skyrocketed in the Obama era, and it now costs more than $1.5 billion. This is where Mercatus’ report comes in, summarizing how the program has gotten out of control and what can be done:


Link Up was a low income program for telecom service discontinued in 2011.

The 2008 recession was a major factor in pushing people into the Lifeline program, but other factors have pushed up Lifeline as well. The general societal move from landlines to wireless phones is one, as Mercatus writes, and Lifeline only partially subsidizes landlines while wholly funding cell phones. “Faced with a choice between free wireless service or discounted wireline service,” the authors write, “many low-income households quite sensibly pick the free service.”

Furthermore, while other Universal Service Fund programs are subject to budget caps, Lifeline isn’t. That has enabled funding for the program to grow so precipitously. And Lifeline is subject to much fraud – Mercatus estimates $180 million every year is wasted on the program.

A host of reforms could control the skyrocketing costs of the Lifeline program. Mercatus suggests lowering the subsidies, eliminating cost-free phones to consumers, capping spending on the program, or converting it to a voucher program.

Here’s the point: the federal government does indeed give completely free phones to low-income people. Some of the Lifeline recipients are under the false impression that this is a program originated by President Obama – hence, “Obamaphones.” It’s a program that has been in place for a long time, but the 2005 availability of wireless service in the program coupled with the recession have pushed Lifeline spending out of control. The “Obamaphones” moniker may be inaccurate, but it is in reality another out-of-control government program.


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I’m still waiting for my Obamacar and Obamahouse.

myiq2xu on March 19, 2014 at 6:45 PM

Doesn’t matter where it came from, Bush and/or Obama, it just describes this govt as a whole…

Totally OUT of Control!

Scrumpy on March 19, 2014 at 6:47 PM

Wasn’t this known in 2012? Why bring it up now?

thebrokenrattle on March 19, 2014 at 6:50 PM

Oh oh you got some explaining to do kevin. Commenters are not going to be happy with you pointing out that lifeline has been around long before Obama was a sliver in the nation’s eye. Don’t you know that just like all world conflict began in 1938, all government programs are the creation of Obama? Don’t you kevin?

coolrepublica on March 19, 2014 at 6:51 PM

I think I’m doing playing this game, the only Gov’t sh!t that shows up at my house are tax bills.

antipc on March 19, 2014 at 6:51 PM

I have the phone.

Bmore on March 19, 2014 at 6:54 PM

It’s a program that has been in place for a long time, but the 2005 availability of wireless service in the program coupled with the recession have pushed Lifeline spending out of control.

The number of subscribers decreased marginally from 2005 to 2008.

Bush racked up debt, but Obama racked up much more. Bush might have had a program with subscribers, but that exponential curve, again, is Obama’s. If the insane debt is Bush’s, then the phones are BushPhones. If the insane debt is Obama’s, then the phones are ObamaPhones.

Axe on March 19, 2014 at 6:57 PM

Oh oh you got some explaining to do kevin. Commenters are not going to be happy with you pointing out that lifeline has been around long before Obama was a sliver in the nation’s eye. Don’t you know that just like all world conflict began in 1938, all government programs are the creation of Obama? Don’t you kevin?

coolrepublica on March 19, 2014 at 6:51 PM

No, idiot. It’s not that he has created all these programs, it’s that he has grown all these programs beyond any sense of proportion. He increased the deficit by more than Bush did in about half the time Bush grew it. And Bush was no miser.

Bitter Clinger on March 19, 2014 at 6:58 PM

coolrepublica on March 19, 2014 at 6:51 PM

The question now is what did Obama do with the program whilst he was responsible for it?

Did he use to buy votes?

DinaRehn on March 19, 2014 at 6:59 PM

I’m still waiting for my Obamacar and Obamahouse.

myiq2xu on March 19, 2014 at 6:45 PM

You might want to aim lower to start. Like that woman in Florida who wanted Obama to get it right on the case when she thought she was shortchanged on her chicken mcnugget order.

Happy Nomad on March 19, 2014 at 7:01 PM

It’s like telling an 800 pound man he’s got to stop lusting over food and being accused of hypocrisy because you have a thing for chocolate.

Axe on March 19, 2014 at 7:01 PM

I was on it for a year or so in the 90s. I think it was called Lifeline back then.

At the time obviously having a “phone” meant a much different thing. Can I use today’s Obamaphone to tweet a photo of Kanye’s new crib?

bobs1196 on March 19, 2014 at 7:05 PM

Lifeline pays for free or subsidized phone service for eligible low-income Americans, and in 2005 the program was expanded to wireless as well as wireline phones. Should they be called BushPhones?

Which is why we don’t need any of the Establishment Republicans that the HA RINO Brigade goes ga-ga over.

bw222 on March 19, 2014 at 7:06 PM

I’m still waiting for my Obamacar and Obamahouse.

myiq2xu on March 19, 2014 at 6:45 PM

Your version means you’ll be designated the driver of four in your Obamacar mandatory carpool and your Obamahouse will require you to share it with four other families.

hawkeye54 on March 19, 2014 at 7:06 PM

How in the hell are you gonna use an obamaphone if you have to give it up to buy obamacare?

‘Splain it lucy!

jersey taxpayer on March 19, 2014 at 7:11 PM

Local TV news shows have interviewed lots of people who have four, five or even eight free phones.

bw222 on March 19, 2014 at 7:13 PM

a woman at an anti-Romney rally told a videographer that she received a free phone courtesy of President Obama, which caused a wave of consternation in the progressive media.

dispelling a popular conservative myth is a commendable effort, but your constant struggle to make progressives seem gullible instead is laughable.

sesquipedalian on March 19, 2014 at 7:14 PM

Which administration has been trying to enlist as many as possible, regardless of eligility, into welfare, food stamps, social security, disability, housing assistance, questionable mortgages, and free cell phone service? (I’m sure I left out a few)

Many of these programs may have started out as a good idea, but it’s the left that has turned them into vote buying mechanisms.

So as far as I’m concerned, they are and will stay, Obamaphones.

Remember which administration advertises the benefits of US food stamps in Mexico.

Oxymoron on March 19, 2014 at 7:16 PM

How in the hell are you gonna use an obamaphone if you have to give it up to buy obamacare?

Easy. Bammy makes sure both are subsidized for qualified and preferred consumers as reminders to vote for the party of handouts.

hawkeye54 on March 19, 2014 at 7:17 PM

this is all so yesterday…the Connect America Fund is gearing up now

Broadband has gone from being a luxury to a necessity for full participation in our economy and society – for all Americans. For that reason, the FCC has adopted comprehensive reforms of its Universal Service Fund (USF) and Intercarrier Compensation (ICC) systems to accelerate broadband build-out to the 18 million (in 2011) Americans living in rural areas who currently have no access to robust broadband infrastructure. This reform will expand the benefits of high-speed Internet to millions of consumers in every part of the country by transforming the existing USF into a new Connect America Fund (CAF) focused on broadband.

Consumers everywhere – both urban and rural – will benefit. Reform will not only drive economic growth in rural America, but will expand the online marketplace nationwide, creating jobs and businesses opportunities across the country.

r keller on March 19, 2014 at 7:17 PM

Keep Obama in Preznit.

Y’know what i’m sayin’?

Y’feelin’ me?

Murphy9 on March 19, 2014 at 7:20 PM

How in the hell are you gonna use an obamaphone if you have to give it up to buy obamacare?

‘Splain it lucy!

jersey taxpayer on March 19, 2014 at 7:11 PM

Silly jersey.

If you have free phones you don’t have to give them up to pay for Obamacare, — although where the money will come from is uncertain in that case.

The voters who pay for their own phones, now: those are the ones who have to give them up.

Hey! I just had a great idea!
If the Obamaphone and other welfare programs were rationally reformed and the fraud eliminated, we could use that money to subsidize healthcare for everybody!

AesopFan on March 19, 2014 at 7:25 PM

sesquipedalian on March 19, 2014 at 7:14 PM

The question now is what did Obama do with the program whilst he was responsible for it?

Did he use to buy votes?

DinaRehn on March 19, 2014 at 7:26 PM

Oh oh you got some explaining to do kevin. Commenters are not going to be happy with you pointing out that lifeline has been around long before Obama was a sliver in the nation’s eye. Don’t you know that just like all world conflict began in 1938, all government programs are the creation of Obama? Don’t you kevin?

coolrepublica on March 19, 2014 at 6:51 PM

That was Bush’s compassionate conservative side. I prefer the slash and burn, bomb dropping, starving and killing grandma by throwing her off a cliff, dirty air air, water, and libtard panties, side of the conservative movement.
At least Putin would have stayed put. /

RovesChins on March 19, 2014 at 7:27 PM

hey kevin i betcha you voted for obama

who else could have written “The “Obamaphones” moniker may be inaccurate, but it is in reality another out-of-control government program.”

did you ever hear about stepping on an opponents neck and breaking it. i bet not. instead you rinos want to help obama up, give him a hot shower and loofah him.

renalin on March 19, 2014 at 7:28 PM

Local TV news shows have interviewed lots of people who have four, five or even eight free phones.

bw222 on March 19, 2014 at 7:13 PM

THEY ARE NOT FREE! THEY ARE TAXPAYER PAID-FOR!!!!!!

I’m sick and tired of the parasite mentality that this crap is free. That those Obamacare subsidies isn’t paid for by working Americans. That EBT cards don’t represent welfare from the productive to the parasite class.

If I had my way, anything that one gets “for free” would be attached to a giant block of wood like a restroom key at a gas station. You want to suck off the government teat with food stamps then pull out the right log and have the cashier ring you up, or better yet, have her call out to her supervisor who has to put in the right code to get the teat to work. You want to use the Obamaphone then pull out the right log and chat away until the two minutes expire and the phone times out.

Happy Nomad on March 19, 2014 at 7:28 PM

dispelling a popular conservative myth

sesquipedalian on March 19, 2014 at 7:14 PM

What ‘conservative myth’ are you talking about?

Try answering without the blatant use of strawman arguments

DinaRehn on March 19, 2014 at 7:29 PM

sesquipedalian on March 19, 2014 at 7:14 PM

Dear heart,

IF you aren’t gullible — in all things of the brain — then, trust in this — you ARE laughable. To an extreme.

Have a wonderful Thursday!

jersey taxpayer on March 19, 2014 at 7:31 PM

OT, but good news all the same

Federal judge ruling supports Voter ID laws in AZ and KS.

lineholder on March 19, 2014 at 7:37 PM

to make progressives seem gullible

sesquipedalian on March 19, 2014 at 7:14 PM

Those on the national socialist left are doing that all by their lonesome given who they chose as their standard bearer.

DinaRehn on March 19, 2014 at 7:38 PM

Hey! I just had a great idea!
If the Obamaphone and other welfare programs were rationally reformed and the fraud eliminated, we could use that money to subsidize healthcare for everybody!

AesopFan on March 19, 2014 at 7:25 PM

Dearheart,

IF “the obamaphone and other welfare programs” as you put it were ‘rationally’ reformed, they’d be so minimal, we wouldn’t be talking about them.

In the long-run, my thought as to substantial (NOT ‘comprehensive’ (entirely different meaning) health CARE, rather than health INSURANCE, is to put the taxpayer dollars into mobile units, who would then go into communities, on a regular basis. They, in turn, would have the funds (rather than sink it into no-man’s land goverment-mandates) to direct it to the appropriate agency to have any patient transported to a specialist.

But, what do I know — I’m just an American citizen who has witnessed this same issue from all prospectives, financial, demographic, etc. for nearly 38 years.

When you have a small biz background, you seem to envision the answers to quandries. ;)

jersey taxpayer on March 19, 2014 at 7:44 PM

well, g’night folks..hubby’s making a LOT of noise, I need to investigate.

Have a great night all!

jersey taxpayer on March 19, 2014 at 7:48 PM

Get an Obamaphone…

JohnGalt23 on March 19, 2014 at 8:13 PM

…is there anything that is in government hands…THAT IS NOT out of control RIGHT NOW?

KOOLAID2 on March 19, 2014 at 9:01 PM

Folks, Squid is back, remember to stop talking about him in all those other threads.

slickwillie2001 on March 19, 2014 at 9:06 PM

This is the woman who taught us all to call them “Obamaphones.”

Original Obamaphone Lady: Obama Voter Says Vote for Obama

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpAOwJvTOio

This video has been viewed 8.6 million times.

wren on March 19, 2014 at 9:11 PM

Another Federal program ripe for KILLING!

GarandFan on March 19, 2014 at 9:39 PM

it just describes this govt as a whole…

Scrumpy on March 19, 2014 at 6:47 PM

FIFY…..

GWB on March 20, 2014 at 8:00 AM

coolrepublica on March 19, 2014 at 6:51 PM

Someone apparently has problems understanding the pretty pictures. How come the lines are flat under Bush, but go up under Obama?

I know, I know… pictures are soooo HARD to understand.

dominigan on March 20, 2014 at 9:19 AM

but your constant struggle to make progressives seem gullible instead is laughable.

sesquipedalian on March 19, 2014 at 7:14 PM

It’s laughable that you are such a gullible sheep.

Schadenfreude on March 20, 2014 at 1:04 PM