Byline: Paul Begala
A modest proposal in response to an obnoxious one.
So Congressman Stephen Fincher has come up with an idea. Not a new one, to be sure, but Washington today is a Sahara of ideas, so every idea is welcome. Fincher, a Republican from Tennessee, has introduced legislation that would require states to randomly drug-test 20 percent of their welfare recipients.
Fincher introduced his bill after an appeals court had ruled that such a requirement violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure. Seems that conservatives like only one amendment in the Bill of Rights these days. I won't tell you which one, but the first one to guess correctly gets an AR-15 assault weapon.
In a statement, Fincher said, "It's not unreasonable to ask folks to stay clean in order to receive federal assistance." Fincher--who hails from Frog Jump, Tennessee, and is a self-styled fiscal conservative--says he just wants to bring a little Frog Jump common sense to Washington.
But the Environmental Working Group charges that the congressman, who is managing partner of Fincher Farms in West Tennessee, has received $3.2 million in federal farm subsidies over 10 years. Fincher has said that much of that total is in the form of loans, which he repays. Of course, receiving a federal loan is a benefit, even if it is repaid. But Fincher does acknowledge directly pocketing $50,000 to $75,000 a year in payments above and beyond the loans. The average recipient of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (a.k.a. welfare), by contrast, gets $392 per month. So Fincher, who boasts of being a successful agribusinessman, is by his own admission taking at least 10 times more federal money each year than the average impoverished American receives in welfare. (Fincher's spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.)
Why not apply Fincher's logic to Farmer Fincher? Lord knows farmers work their tails off. But so do lots of folks whose work is not federally subsidized. So if Farmer Fincher wants to bank thousands in cash and benefit from millions in loans, he ought to be willing to pee in a jar just like some poor single mother on TANF.
But why stop there? Let's apply Fincher's logic to all …