As the battle over Obamacare rages in Washington, the White House is quietly using a little known provision of the law to roll out a nationwide network of free gas stations for minorities and the poor.
According to a report in The Detroit News this morning, the administration is using its authority under the Affordable Care Act to "improve transportation routes to hospitals" to dispense gasoline free of cost in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
The $2 billion-a-year program aims to distribute 40 million gallons of free gasoline each year through 70 new gas stations constructed in major metropolitan areas. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) will be responsible for operating the network, whose first station opened yesterday in Detroit.
"It's not something we're publicizing very much, for obvious reasons," explains Dori Salcido, assistant DHHS secretary for public affairs. "But under the law we are well within our rights to offer this service, and we think it's good public policy.
"How are people supposed to get to the doctor's office if they don't have gas in their cars? Health insurance is worthless if you can't make your appointment. This is just another fine example of government stepping in and solving big problems."
No Gas for You
Although some developing oil-rich nations like Venezuela and Indonesia subsidize gasoline for the poor, the practice has never before been tried in the United States. The plans are proving controversial with some taxpayers who are loathe to see their money go to subsidize others.
"So basically I'm being punished for not living in the ghetto," says Colin Blair, a white person from the affluent Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills. "I have three kids and a mortgage. Life isn't cheap for me either. I could use some free gasoline too."
An investigation into the station's operations, however, reveals that Blair is unlikely to be able to use the service.
"Supposedly access to the station is determined by income," says Ebony Jackson, manager of the first Obamastation. "But it's pretty unrealistic to do an income check on each and every driver. So what we do is basically let all the black people pump for free, and charge all the white people the market rate."
The Obamastations scandal was uncovered by Nolan Finley , a conservative Detroit News columnist widely lauded for his groundbreaking exposé on Obamaphones. Finley says the blatant racial bias in the program is only one of its many outrageous aspects.
"The stations have Obama campaign logo on them and giant photos of the president," he explains. "He's trying to buy votes ahead of the midterm elections. This is something you normally only see in third world countries. I've never been more scared for our democracy."