Democrats want hearing on 'Obama phone' program

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Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking member, Anna Eshoo (Calif.), the ranking member of the Communications and Technology subcommittee, and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the ranking member of the Oversight subcommittee, sent a letter on Thursday to their Republican counterparts, requesting a hearing to examine the Lifeline program and efforts to contain its costs.


They did not dispute the value of the program, writing that "universal access to communications services is a longstanding national policy goal."

"Since 1985, the Lifeline program has helped tens of millions of low-income Americans get and keep a telephone in their home," the Democrats wrote.

But they blamed the Bush administration for making the program more wasteful. They wrote that the expansion of the program from landline service to cellular service, which occurred in 2005, "created new risks for waste, fraud, and abuse."

They applauded the current chairman, Julius Genachowski, for acting to reduce the growth in the program and tightening eligibility rules. The FCC claims the reforms have already saved $200 million.

They also praised Genachowski for cracking down on fraud. Last week, two Oklahoma providers agreed to re-pay more than $1 million to resolve an FCC investigation into abuse of the program. 

The Republican Energy and Commerce Committee staff and the FCC did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.