Welfare queens for a new generation

WELFARE QUEENS FOR A NEW GENERATION…. In the face of ongoing budget problems, Republican governors want to cut more low-income families off the Medicaid rolls, and that mean ol’ Obama administration won’t let them. But GOP governors keep making their case anyway.

Take Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), for example. The likely 2012 presidential candidate wants low-income families to pay more for prescription medications, arguing, “We have people pull up at the pharmacy window in a BMW and say they can’t afford their co-payment.”

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because, as Adam Serwer noted this morning, Barbour’s rhetoric is awfully similar to Ronald Reagan targeting “Cadillac-driving welfare queens” in 1976. (Reagan pointed to a specific woman to bolster his case at the time, but his anecdote was proven to be a rather ridiculous lie.)

What’s more, Glenn Kessler took a closer look at the substance of Barbour’s claim, and concludes that the far-right governor is just making stuff up.

Mississippi provides some of the lowest Medicaid benefits to working adults in the nation. A parent who isn’t working can qualify only if annual family income is less than 24 percent of the poverty line. Working parents qualify only if they make no more than 44 percent of the federal poverty level. Seniors and people with disabilities are eligible with income at 80 percent of the poverty line. Pregnant women do better — they’re eligible with income up to 185 percent of the poverty level.

Translated from the federal poverty guidelines, that means a working Mississippi couple with one child could earn no more than $8,150 a year and still qualify for Medicaid, seniors and people with disabilities could earn no more than $8,700, and a pregnant woman could earn no more than $20,000 a year.

Meanwhile, the German-engineered BMW is a pretty fancy car. Edmunds.com says that new BMW car prices range from nearly $30,000 to more than $120,000. That seems out of the price range of someone making $8,000 a year.

Checking used BMWs worth less than $5,000 in Mississippi on Yahoo Used Cars finds 10 available within 300 miles of Jackson, the state capital — but all carrying lots of miles. Four grand, for instance, would get you a 1996 BMW 328i with 237,000 miles on it. But even that, for many of Mississippi’s Medicaid recipients, would be half a year’s salary.

In other words, when Barbour claims “we have people” who pick up prescriptions in Mississippi in a BMW — as if this is somehow common — he’s lying. Indeed, when Kessler asked the governor’s office to bolster the anecdote, they blew off two days of inquiries.

But I suspect Barbour doesn’t much care. The point of a quote like that one isn’t to draw attention to a legitimate policy concern; it’s to appeal to right-wing voters on an emotional level.

Indeed, it’s not dissimilar to Barbour whining that “some people on the left” don’t like “conservative Christian Republicans from the Deep South,” as he did this week.