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Pallone Slams GOP Efforts to Eliminate Low-Income Americans’ Access to Communications Services

Jun 21, 2016
Press Release

Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) delivered the following remarks today during House Floor consideration of H.R.5525, the “End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act of 2016”:

I rise in strong opposition to H.R. 5525.
A few weeks ago when Speaker Ryan presented his anti-poverty plan many of us were skeptical and argued that his proposals would not actually help the poor.  The Ryan plan was simply a rebranding of failed policies that Congressional Republicans have been pushing for years.  Unfortunately, we are quickly finding out that our fears were justified.
Today, Speaker Ryan and the Republican majority is bringing a bill to the floor that would eliminate the successful Lifeline program that provides millions of low-income Americans access to basic communications services.
It would leave people with no way to search job postings, no way to schedule interviews, and no way to get a call back from a potential employer.  And this goes far beyond jobs.  Cell phones are a necessity in modern everyday life.  Low-income Americans rely more heavily on mobile phones and mobile internet service than the overall population.
Children from low-income homes use Lifeline to help do their homework; seniors use it to manage their healthcare and call their family and loved ones; victims of domestic violence use it to find the help and support they need; and victims of assaults use their Lifeline phones to call 9-1-1 in an emergency.  Which makes me question how exactly this bill fits into Speaker Ryan’s anti-poverty agenda.
This legislation is so extreme when you consider that Congressional Republicans are looking to gut a Lifeline program created in the Reagan administration, and expanded to include wireless service in the Bush administration.  At least 9.8 million Americans depend on the Lifeline program to stay connected using mobile phones, and this bill would leave these people stranded.
Some claim that the program is fraught with government waste, but these claims ignore the fact that the Obama Administration has eliminated nearly three quarters of a billion dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse.
This bill will do absolutely nothing to help taxpayers.  In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that this bill would essentially create a $1.2 billion tax.  Specifically, the bill directs the FCC to continue collecting funds from the American people that had been used for the Lifeline program, but not pay any benefits out.  Rather than cut taxes, this bill creates a new one.
When it comes down to it, Congressional Republicans already know there are significant problems with this bill.  They don’t want it to pass.  That’s the only way to explain why they came up with this cynical procedural move to ignore regular order and set up the bill to fail.  They are bringing it up under a suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority.  They think that the American people will not hold them accountable for their bad policies if they let Democrats kill the bill.
Worse, this maneuver comes from a committee that normally obsesses with process for the agencies in our jurisdiction.  It seems those concerns apply only to others.
Well, I think more highly of our constituents.  I think they see through these kinds of ploys.  The American people know that if Republicans were really serious about battling poverty and shrinking the size of Lifeline, they would work with us to create more jobs for those that are unemployed or under-employed.  The best way to lower the costs of the Lifeline program is to lift people up, not to take away their connection to a better life.
We should not be spending our time on bills like this.  We could be looking at ways to take guns from terrorists instead of taking phones from Americans looking for jobs.  Or we could be working together to increase the minimum wage, and repair our crumbling infrastructure.
Mr. Speaker, this bill abandons our most vulnerable and I urge all of my colleagues to oppose it.