Washington Briefs: Company criticizes Vitter 

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

A major mobile phone corporation launched an attack on Sen. David Vitter, R-La., during the same week the senator used social media websites to ask people for pictures of “free cell phone” booths and signs.

Earlier this month, Vitter filed legislation to end the GOP-maligned subsidies for low-income families to receive mobile phone services.

But TracFone Wireless, of Miami, which produces prepaid mobile phones, released ads this week that criticized Vitter for unfairly politicizing the matter.

The headline reads, “Lifeline’s wireless benefit was born out of Katrina. Sen. David Vitter must have forgotten.”

“Following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it became evident that the need for displaced individuals and families to receive access to mobile telecommunications was essential,” TracFone spokesman José Fuentes said in the announcement.

“Today, this vital program helps seniors, veterans and low-income families stay connected to first-responders, medical professionals and their employers.”

Without directly taking aim at President Barack Obama, Vitter has repeatedly criticized the program. Other critics have dubbed it the “Obamaphone” program.

“This phone program has expanded far beyond its original intent, and as so many middle-class Americans struggle underneath this economy, it is really offensive for Washington to make taxpayers pay for free cell phones for others,” Vitter previously stated.

In Louisiana, nearly 800,000 low-income families participate in the Lifeline program, according to TracFone.

Lifeline is funded by fees that both landline and wireless companies apply to their monthly phone bills.

GOP targets Landrieu

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is a top GOP target for 2014 and the National Republican Senatorial Committee is attempting use the IRS scandal against her, after it was revealed the Internal Revenue Service targeted some tea party-related groups.

The NRSC is taking particular aim at the National Treasury Employees Union, which includes IRS employees nationwide, and that the organization has donated more than $20,000 to Landrieu over the years.

The union has given much more money to Democrats than it has to Republicans and the NRSC is demanding the Democrats return their donations.

“After years of pressuring the IRS to crackdown on their political opponents, Mary Landrieu and Senate Democrats must be honest with taxpayers and return the IRS union’s contributions immediately,” NRSC Communications Director Brad Dayspring said in a prepared statement.

There is no reported evidence that Landrieu has attempted to pressure the IRS on the topic.

Maness announces candidacy

Landrieu’s top challenger in 2014, for now, is Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, but the only other announced GOP candidate is trying to make waves.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Rob Maness announced last week he is running and he is trying to get support from conservatives who consider Cassidy to be too moderate.

The Roll Call publication reported last week that the Senate Conservatives Fund emailed supporters Wednesday to highlight Maness.

“We still need to vet Col. Maness to see if he’s someone SCF can support, but we’re excited about his potential,” SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins wrote. “It’s encouraging to see people run for office who aren’t career politicians and who aren’t part to the political establishment.”

Insurance caucus formed

With the ongoing fight in southern Louisiana and nationwide over concerns about significant upcoming rate increases in the National Flood Insurance Program, the Congressional Home Protection Caucus was formed Friday.

The founding announced members are Cassidy, Vitter and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans; all from Louisiana; as well as Reps. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.; Bill Passcrell, D-N.J.; and Steven Palazzo, R-Miss.

“Flood insurance is critical not only to South Louisiana but to coastal communities across the country,” Cassidy said in the announcement. “This is why I am working to make it both available and affordable.”

Landrieu filed an amendment last week to temporarily delay the rate hikes, but it was blocked by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Landrieu said she will file stand-alone legislation soon.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com