The Mississippi Model

I noted earlier today, as I often do, that if the race-to-the-bottom keep-business-costs-as-low-as-possible approach to economic growth now being championed by the GOP made sense, then Mississippi would be the economic dynamo of the nation. Then I ran across an op-ed by the Magnolia State’s current Republican governor explaining why he was opposing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, and was reminded all over again why Mississippi stays so dumb and poor.

Keep in mind that the federal government would pay an estimated 96% of the cost of the Medicaid expansion, giving 400,000 citizens of that state health insurance. But 4% of the cost of adequate health care for Mississippians is far too much for Gov. Phil Bryant, who complains the money would have to come out of money for economic development (i.e., corporate welfare), public safety or education (a big priority for Bryant, I am sure).

But what’s fascinating, in a nauseating sort of way, about Bryant’s argument is that he objects to the existing Medicaid program (which under the expansion would cover roughly a third of the state’s citizens), and claims he has a “better way” to provide health coverage for those 400,000 people:

I would personally rather see those 1 in 3 earn health care coverage through good-paying jobs in Mississippi’s energy sector or our cutting-edge, advanced manufacturing operations.

Y’know, Governor, I’d bet every single one of Medicaid’s current and potential beneficiaries in Mississippi would agree with that pious hope. But you know it ain’t happening, in large part because you and your conservative predecessors have insisted on minimizing “good-paying jobs” by creating and sustaining a Third World quality of life and level of public services, lest the wealthy be discomfited.

Perhaps there is a difference of opinion here about how one would define “good-paying jobs.” The current Medicaid program in Mississippi–the one Bryant apparently considers too generous–cuts off coverage of any family of three earning $8200 a year or more. I’m guessing a lot of jobs that pay at that level don’t come with a health insurance plan. But hey, gotta get that private-sector economy growing at any cost, as Mississippi and other sluggish southern states have been arguing for years.

The crowning irony, of course, is that an expanded Medicaid would actually serve as a subsidy for low-wage employers, who would not have to even think about health benefits for those who became eligible. So for 4% of the costs, Mississippi could burnish its reputation as a place where job-creators are king, and burdens are placed on them as lightly as possible.

You really, really have to dislike poor people a lot–or simply be so imprisoned by ideology as to buy the idea that the poor, or perhaps their descendents, will ultimately be empowered by unimaginable sacrifices today–to talk the way Bryant talks. It’s especially striking given the exceedingly tender conscience he purports to possess as co-chair of the recently failed initiative to give full constitutional “personhood” rights to fertilized ova. But no one should just laugh and call him a dumb cracker: Phil Bryant is a model public official according to current GOP thinking, and his approach to the economy is little more than a deep-fried version of the Bain Way.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.