GOP gave taxpayers genuine Thanksgiving turkey

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just in time for Thanksgiving, warm-hearted Republicans in the House of Representatives came up with a genuine turkey for the nation's taxpayers to swallow - a bill to ladle out a whopping $830 million to millions of Americans to pay for converting their TV sets to receive high-tech digital transmissions.

A bill passed last Friday before the members ran off to spend Thanksgiving at home and brag about how they are cutting spending (while bringing home the federal bacon to their districts), requires TV broadcasters to switch to all-digital transmissions by December 2008.

Some 21 million households are dependent on free, over-the-air TV, and will need converter boxes to keep receiving their television signals after the switch to all-digital TV transmission. The Associated Press says that cable and satellite customers will not be affected.

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In the House, Republicans claimed they don’t expect wealthier Americans to request coupons for the boxes, so they expect the $830 million would cover those homes that really need help.

In one fell swoop, these generous members of the party dedicated to restraining needless government spending have created a whole new category of welfare clients - people with the soon-to-be-outdated analog TV sets who are digitally impaired and unable to cough up the estimated $50 to $60 cost for a converter box. So the government will fork over $40 and the TV owners will have to come up with the other $10 or $20.

But it gets worse. With the transition from analog TV to digital TV three years away from reality, are there really people who can't afford to set aside about $7 a year for the next three years so they'll have the money to pay their share of the subsidized price of a $60 converter box by December 2008?

House Democrats appear not to think so. They want more money.

According to the AP, Democrats are complaining that the GOP subsidy for converter boxes is too stingy. It would only pay for about 10 million households, half the number of homes that would need them. Moreover, consumer groups say the $830 million would cover only about a quarter of homes.

“The funding level provided is woefully inadequate to ensure that consumers aren’t forced to reach into their wallets to facilitate the government’s mandated transition to digital television,” Jeannine Kenney of Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports whined to the AP.

But the House Republicans and their Democrat colleagues are mere pikers compared to their opposite numbers over in the Republican-controlled Senate. The AP reported that Senators want to lay out all of $3 billion to subsidize the cost of TV set conversion.

Who are these people? Where did they get the idea that every American has a right to digital television?

I've been trying to find a clause in the Constitution that decrees that the federal government is responsible for providing the kind of infotainment now available from television. I can't find it anywhere in that hallowed document.

My father used to say, &#8220When they pay you not to work, why work?”

By the same token, when they pay you to watch TV why pay for it yourself?

Happy Thanksgiving, America.

Mike Reagan, the eldest son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is heard on more than 200 talk radio stations nationally. E-mail comments to .