Vice-President Al Gore, aided and abetted by Jay Rockefeller (D. West Virginia) and Olympia Snowe (R. Maine) fought for and succeeded in amending the Telecommunications Act of 1996 such that a universal services fund was created to subsidize telecommunica- tions services for schools, libraries and rural health care providers. The subsidies that go into the fund are collected by way of a charge on residential and commercial telephone bills, an E-rate tax that has become popularly known as the "Gore tax." In a May 1997 order, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), ordered telephone companies to start making universal service "contributions" for the social good of wiring schools and libraries to the internet. In 1999, the Federal Communications Commission, not Congress, raised the federal telephone E-rate tax by 73 percent.
Do you see anything wrong with this picture? You should. Any high school student knows (or used to know) that only Congress has the power to tax. In particular, Article 1, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution reads: "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills." Congress cannot delegate its taxing authority to any agency. In other words Congress does not have the power to grant taxing authority to the White House, the Supreme Court or to so-called independent agencies such as the FCC.
You say, "Come on, Williams; are you serious? How can the FCC get away with such a flagrant constitutional violation?" It's easy. They do it through nothing less than government thuggery. They conceal and intimidate. Look at your telephone bill. You'll see taxes and other charges itemized, but you won't see the Gore tax (E-Rate tax) listed. Why? The Federal Communications Commission has forbidden telephone companies from telling the American people about the tax. More specifically, the FCC's Truth in Billing docket (CC98-170) declares, "In contrast, we would not consider a description of that charge [E-Rate tax] as being "mandated" by the Commission or the federal government as accurate." The order goes on to read, "Our view is consistent with the recent decision of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service which recommended that the Commission 'prohibit carriers from depicting [universal service] charges as . . . mandated by the Commission or the federal government by terms or placement on the bill.'" While telephone companies are mandated or required to pay into a Universal Services Fund via the Gore tax, if they use the words "FCC, federal, required or mandated" to list and identify the E-Rate tax on customer telephone bills, they will be subject to FCC retribution. Therefore, when telephone bills rise, we blame telephone companies, not Congress, not the FCC, and not Al Gore.
Do we Americans deserve this deception, deceit and trampling on our Constitution? I'm of two minds. Americans accept and applaud government extortion of the tobacco industry and its customers, government extortion of Microsoft and its customers and the beginning extortion of the firearms industry and their customers. So why not accept and applaud government extortion of the telecommunications industry and its customers?
But on the other hand, because of the public education establishment's deliberate dumbing down, most Americans have no idea what the Constitution is all about, and they are unappreciative of the on-going attack on our liberties. With that kind of innocence we elect the worst kind of scoundrels to public office who refuse to allow the Constitution to stand in the way of their personal agenda. We might deserve what we're getting, but not our children and their children who'll be condemned to a life without the liberties we've known.
Walter E. Williams
January 31, 2000
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