This week, readers sent us comments on cap and trade, "Obama phones" and insurance coverage for abortions.
In the FactCheck Mailbag we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters may be edited for length.
"Obama Phones" and Taxes
In reference to the "Obama phone" or whenever it started (during President Clinton’s term), isn’t the universal service fee a "tax" that we wind up paying anyway because the government requires the "fee" from the phone companies ["The Obama Phone?," Oct. 29]? So isn’t it just semantics — that it really is taxpayers’ money under another name that pays for these "free" phones?
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
FactCheck.org responds: The SafeLink program started when President George Bush, not President Bill Clinton, was in office. Phone companies are required to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which provides grants to SafeLink and programs like it, but the companies aren’t required to collect the money from customers through a universal service fee, according to the FCC. Many phone carriers do so.
A tax by any other name is still a tax. It is not a voluntary contribution made by the phone companies, nor is the charge to us “taxpayers” in any way voluntary. These subsidized services are paid for by a tax paid by everyone who pays for their phone service. While it is true that Obama has nothing to do with it, it is disingenuous at best to claim it is not taxpayer funded.
West Redding, Conn.
Cap and trade vs. the Status Quo
In your Oct. 27 assessment of the cap-and-trade component of the House energy bill ["Cap-and-trade: ‘Green Jobs’ or Job Killer?"], you discussed the findings of several government and independent studies regarding cap and trade’s effect on total employment. Your point was clear: Under almost any economic scenario, cap and trade will hurt total employment. I contend, however, that this is a very myopic view. Although the [Congressional Budget Office] admits that doing nothing to curb our carbon footprint will result in “potentially serious and costly impacts,” this critical factor received only a token comment at the end of your report. So, when are you going to start including the worst-case do-nothing scenario in your assessments? Cap and trade may cause the loss of 2.3 million jobs by the year 2030 as the EIA reports, but doing nothing will likely result in the loss of millions more, not to mention untold economic and social devastation. You’re not helping matters by glossing over this vital consideration.
Pleasant View, Tenn.
In your article on cap and trade … did you analyze the effect of a cleaner environment on the economy? I didn’t see any reference to the indirect benefits of cap and trade, only the indirect negative effects. Suppose we lose 500,000 jobs but employees take fewer sick days making them more productive, wouldn’t that mean lower costs for industry and higher profits for shareholders? If companies are more profitable aren’t they more likely to expand? If the air is cleaner will trees grow faster therefore benefiting the logging industry? Just curious.
FactCheck.org responds: As we said in the article, "None of these economic projections attempt to assess the effects of climate change on jobs or the economy. But CBO says it expects there will be major economic consequences should Congress do nothing to control carbon emissions." The CBO report doesn’t have specific findings on the dollar cost of doing nothing.
Abortion Coverage Debate Continues
First, you guys are fabulous! I have referred a number of acquaintances to your website for verification/explanation after receiving their histrionic, political emails. While I do not know for sure if they used your site, it has certainly cut down on the outlandishly junk emails sent to me. For this, I thank you greatly.
Second, I am the editor of our parish (Catholic) bulletin, and am getting phone calls stating that the Catholic bishops oppose the current health care bill as proposed by Harry Reid. A flyer from the Catholic Bishops website states, "Americans would be forced to subsidize abortions through their taxes and health insurance premiums." Is this true for the latest bill? I have read your factcheck statements (which are so informational), but did not see any reference to the most recent bill soon to be voted on. Could you address this question so those of us serious about health care reform have some answers?
FactCheck.org responds: Thanks for the kind words. Our earlier article on the abortion and health care legislation debate is still relevant. The most recent House legislation stipulates that abortion coverage may not be part of the required minimum coverage package for health insurance providers, but it also doesn’t bar the coverage of abortion by those insurers. There’s a difference between "cover" and "pay for," however, and the bill blocks the use of public funds to pay for abortions. (Public funds would include federal subsidies to help those below a certain income level buy insurance.) The exception is the so-called "public option," which would have to pay for abortions that would be covered under current Medicaid rules, that is, in cases of rape, incest or risk to the life of the mother. Anti-abortion groups have protested the bill’s language, saying it’s meaningless to attempt to separate any federal subsidies from private money used to buy coverage.
Honestly the best source of information. Explanations are simple and easy to understand (considering I followed the Greatful Dead around for about 3 years that is an amazing feat).