A little-known White House proposal announced earlier this year could see a new federal fee imposed on all cellphone users — and without the approval of Congress.
The program, known as ConnectEd, aims to increase high-speed Internet access in schools, providing students with digital notebooks and teachers with the ability to customize lessons “like never before,” the Utah Standard-Examiner puts it.
The program is expected to cost billions of dollars and the White House hopes to fund it by increasing fees on mobile users.
The program is expected to cost somewhere between $4 and $6 billion, the Standard-Examiner reports, adding that the plan should cost cellphone users roughly $12 in fees over three years.
One of the program’s chief selling points is that President Barack Obama wouldn’t have to seek Congress’ approval. The plan would require the approval of the Federal Communications Commission, an independent government agency filled with Obama-appointed officials.
There are five seats on the commissions: two are Democrats, one is Republican, and there are two vacancies awaiting Obama appointments.
The White House and its supporters are thrilled with the proposal.
“It’s got a lot of the characteristics of big-vision policy that you really don’t get through legislation anymore,” said Rob Nabors, White House deputy chief of staff.
“We are here to do big things — and we can do this without Congress,” the president reportedly told staff in a meeting.
Naturally, Republicans are opposed to the idea of the White House imposing a federal fee (i.e. a tax) on the American people without their representatives first signing off on it.
“Most consumers would balk at higher costs, higher phone bills, and I sure hope that this is not part of the equation that ultimately comes out,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “If they pursue that course, there’s going to be pushback, absolutely.”
Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a Republican former FCC commissioner, chimed in: “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,” he added.
National Review Online’s Charles C. W. Cooke is a little more blunt in his criticism of the little-known proposal:
This is pretty simple: federal taxation falls not “mostly,” not “preferably,” not “traditionally,” not “hopefully,” but solely under Congress’s jurisidiction.
This does not change if Congress is marked by “stagnation and dysfunction and an inability to act.”
If this “fee” is imposed without having gone through Congress, Americans will be subjected to taxation that has not been approved by their representatives.
That the president is putting pressure on the FCC because he can’t get what he wants through Congress is wholly inappropriate, and it cannot be simultaneously written off as a minor change by an independent body and lauded by “White House senior advisers” as “one of the biggest potential achievements of Obama’s second term.”
He is simply not allowed to address that issue without Congress. That the president and his allies are evidently sitting around the White House trying to work out how they can get around the constitutional system of the United States should be worrying to each and every one of us. The only thing more worrying is that it is apparently not.
And despite the possible legal and Constitutional dilemmas created by ConnectEd, it doesn’t appear that the president will cool to the idea any time soon.
“How do we make sure Americans have the chance to earn the best skills and education possible?” the president said before a crowd of students and teachers on June 6. “At a moment when the rest of the world is trying to out-educate us, we’ve got to make sure that our young people – all you guys – have every tool that you need to go as far as your talents and your dreams and your ambitions and your hard work will take you.”
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image Getty Images.