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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise to present two amendments I have filed on this farm bill, and I will be pushing hard for votes on them right now. I hope these get a full and extensive debate and a vote. They are relevant and related to the farm bill in significant ways.
The first amendment is with regard to the free government cell phone program, and of course that uses as criteria for eligibility the food stamp program and other benefit programs, so it is directly related to that aspect of the farm bill.
Mr. President, as you know, this program has been exploding almost without limit, and I have some fundamental concerns about it. My fundamental concerns are pretty simple and pretty basic. They come down to two things: First of all, I think the whole program is an entitlement mentality gone wild; that we have started the notion that folks are entitled to the government, the taxpayer, providing them almost everything under the sun; and, secondly, and not unrelated, there has been widespread fraud and abuse in this program, and I am convinced it is at the core of this program and can't be scrubbed out.
What is the program we are talking about? Well, it is the free government cell phone program. It was started in 2008, and in just those few years since then it has grown from $143 million that year, which itself is a significant amount of money, to nearly $2 billion now--an elevenfold increase. This program is paid for by you and by me. It is paid for through our land line and cell phone bills. We all get a charge on our bills. So if you actually pay your phone bill, land line, and/or cell phone, you get a charge and you pay that charge and that is what funds this program. So ratepayers, taxpayers, citizens, millions upon millions around the country pay for this program.
The FCC itself--and the FCC is in charge of the program--estimates that about 270,000 beneficiaries have more than one of these free government cell phones. That is interesting, that is important because that is completely against the law and against the rules--completely prohibited. The FCC also says the top five companies that benefit from the program could not confirm the eligibility of 41 percent of the folks they signed up. This is from a report in 2011. The FCC did some spot-checking and found that 41 percent of the folks these companies signed up couldn't be confirmed as eligible.
This has led one of my colleagues, Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, to say the program is rife for fraud, with a ``history of extreme waste and abuse.'' That is what my objections are all about--rampant waste and abuse and a general entitlement mentality that I think has gone too far.
The amendment I offer on this bill, which is at the desk, would simply and completely end the program with regard to free government cell phones. Someone might argue: Oh, these programs are being fixed. We are making great strides.
Well, I was interested in seeing how far we have come, so this very weekend I was talking to a friend of mine back in Louisiana, Clarence, and he was interested in that too. So Monday--yesterday--he decided to go to one of these outlets that advertises free government cell phones and just see what his experience was.
So he walked in and simply told the truth; that he was interested in getting a free government cell phone. He was asked: Are you now on any government benefit program, such as food stamps?
He answered truthfully: No. He said: I have a job. I don't make a lot of money. That was the truth.
He was asked to produce two things: a driver's license and a pay stub. He showed the people at the counter both of those things. They looked at them. Interestingly, they certainly didn't make any copies. They certainly didn't create any documentation because that could potentially get them in trouble.
They looked at his documents and gave him a form he had to sign once, and then they immediately gave him a free government cell phone. The phone was on, it worked immediately, it had minutes on it that he could immediately use.
He walked out of that storefront in less than 10 minutes with a free government cell phone.
He then looked up the precise eligibility criteria of the program, which he did not know before. Guess what. Surprise, surprise. He did not qualify. He should never have gotten one. So he is returning it today. It will also be interesting to see how long that phone is kept on even after he returns it because the provider gets $9.25 from the ratepayer and the taxpayer and the FCC every month for that account.
This is his, Clarence's, free government cell phone. This is his receipt. The charge is zero, absolutely free, and completely contrary to all of the rules of the program, which is why he is returning it today.
We have serious spending and fiscal challenges in this country, but we have an even greater challenge, which is we have lost the faith and confidence of the American people. We have lost it because of this. We have lost it because there are tents popping out on every street corner. They are handing out these free government cell phones like candy. And why is that happening? Because the people handing out the phones have a vested interest in doing that, have a vested interest in not worrying about whether eligibility criteria are met because every time they hand out a phone they get $9.25 per phone per month as long as they can sustain that gravy train.
They are the biggest welfare abusers of this--rich owners of companies who milk the system to get richer, whom I would call government welfare kings.
This abuse needs to stop. We need to recapture the confidence of the American people. My amendment would help do that.
I will also be presenting and pushing for a vote on an amendment to limit and bar certain people from receiving any food stamp benefits. Those are folks who have been convicted of violent and serious crimes such as violent rapists, pedophiles, and murderers. There is a misconception that ban is already in the law. In fact, it is not. In fact, the only ban that exists is for drug felons and in the law is an opt-out for States so the State can opt out of even that ban.
My second amendment is simple and straightforward. It would establish a complete ban in the program for anyone who has committed a violent rape, a crime of pedophilia or a murder. There would be no opt-out for States.
I hope we can form a bipartisan consensus around this basic idea and put that basic fundamental limitation in the law. I urge my colleagues to look at both of these amendments and support both of these amendments.
I yield the floor.
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