Obama’s Unilateral End Run Around Congress: Hike FCC Cellphone Fees To Pay For High-Speed Internet

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President Barack Obama is hoping to add another “signature” accomplishment to mark his second term in office that, if successful, could stand alongside the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as a landmark aggrandizement of the reach and power of the executive branch.

The President has wholly embraced a novel idea that, if implemented, would expand high-speed Internet access and elevate the role of technology in student-teacher interaction in public schools nationwide. It would cost billions of dollars, which the President knows Congress won’t appropriate by legislating any sort of new tax or hike in consumer “fees.”

So Obama is turning to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ram through yet another new fee that would be tacked on to the bills of cellphone users everywhere in the United States — well, at least all the cellphone users who aren’t using free Obamaphones — to pay for the program, estimated to cost between $4 billion and $6 billion.

The program itself, first announced in a chirpy White House press release dated June 6,  has been dubbed “ConnectED.” According to the President, the program aims to “connect 99 percent of America’s students to the internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within 5 years, calling on the FCC to modernize and leverage its existing E-Rate program to meet that goal…This ambitious initiative does not require Congressional action.”

Amazing how sterilizing language can be. “Modernize and leverage its existing E-Rate program” is the President’s disinfected version of “raise fees without Congress passing a law.” The E-Rate program benefits from the FCC’s prerogative to assess universal service fees for government-backed programs that ostensibly support the common good — something the commission already does for things like E-911 and Obamaphones.

So that you see the broad application of powers the FCC wields, think of the inscrutable machinations of the public utility or service commission in your home State — writ large at the Federal level — and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how inviolate and powerful is the FCC’s ability to raise your phone bill with the stroke of a pen. The five-member FCC commissioner panel is currently down to three members (all Obama appointees), and will inevitably hold a three-member Democrat-affiliated majority once Obama finally secures Senate confirmation for the two ongoing vacancies.

Former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a Republican appointee, said the commission has no Constitutional business helping Obama or any other President impose fiat tax hikes in order to realize a grand personal vision:

Using the FCC as a way to get around Congress to spend money that Congress doesn’t have the political will to spend — I think that’s very scary…Constitutionally, it’s Congress that decides how federal funds should be spent.

Jeffrey H. Anderson of The Weekly Standard was more damning of Obama’s naked ambition and disregard for the rule of law:

It is becoming increasingly clear that President Obama does not approve of the American Founders’ notion that Congress’s role is to pass laws, and the president’s role is to execute them. On the heels of his unilateral decision not to start Obamacare’s employer mandate on the date that the legislation prescribes — a decision that begs the question of whether a Republican president, following Obama’s precedent, could unilaterally decide to gut other parts of Obamacare — Obama is now seeking to raise taxes on all cell phone users, reappropriate the billions collected, and spend it on “a whole new educational ecosystem.”  Moreover, he says, “We can do this without Congress.”

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.