The Corner

Obama Moves to Raise Taxes on Cell-Phone Users — Without Congress

As we now know from the New York Times, the president hopes to

seize any opportunity I can find to work with Congress to strengthen the middle class, improve their prospects, improve their security. But where Congress is unwilling to act, I will take whatever administrative steps that I can in order to do right by the American people.

The latest such idea is unilaterally to levy a federal fee (traditionally known in America as a “tax”) on mobile phone users in order to pay for “high-speed Internet access in schools that would allow students to use digital notebooks and teachers to customize lessons like never before.” As the Standard Examiner notes, the program, named “ConnectEd,”

is a case study in how Obama is trying to accomplish a second-term legacy despite Republican opposition in Congress.

“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, who is coordinating executive actions.

Dilate on this phrase for a moment: “Big-vision policy that you really don’t get through legislation anymore.” Rob Nabors probably doesn’t know how right he is. Typically in America, when presidents cannot get the legislation they want through the peculiarly named “legislative” branch, that legislation remains unpassed. But, as George Will observed this morning in masterly fashion, this is apparently of little consequence to a man whose “increasingly grandiose claims for presidential power” rest upon the novel conceit that the structure of the republic retains its integrity only if its institutions agree to do what the incumbent president considers imperative. 

The “ConnectEd” proposal does worry the White House a little – although not on the grounds of anything as dull as conscience:

White House officials were also concerned about the perception that they would try to unduly influence the FCC.

Well, still thy beating hearts. I’m sure that nobody would worry that an FCC full of Obama appointees might be unduly influenced by the president of the United States.

“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,” said Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a Republican former FCC commissioner. “Constitutionally, it’s Congress that decides how federal funds should be spent.”

The former FCC commissioner is right: It is traditionally Congress that gets to decide these questions. But why should we let little things such as the rule of law and the purity of the social compact get in the way when there are grand and necessary plans to execute for the children?

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.” 

It is of absolutely no consequence whatsoever that Obama is apparently racked with “frustration that countries such as South Korea [have] embraced technology in the classroom so much better than the United States [has].” 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.

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