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Taking welfare drug tests to the national level

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) idea of mandating drug tests for welfare applicants failed miserably. Only about 2% of applicants tested positive, and Florida lost money when it was forced to reimburse everyone else for the cost of the drug test, plus pay for staff and administrative costs for the drug-testing program. Making matters worse, the courts rejected the law, forcing its demise.

And yet, at least one member of Congress hopes to take the failed Florida policy to the national level.

Rep. Stephen Fincher's (R-Tenn.) bill would require states to randomly test 20 percent of people receiving benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which spends roughly $16 billion per year supporting poverty-stricken parents with monthly checks averaging $392.

"Currently the federal government enables drug abusers a safety-net by allowing them to participate in the TANF program," Fincher said in a statement. "Instead of having to make the hard-choice between drugs and other essential needs, abusers are able to rely on their monthly check to help them pay their bills."

The Republican congressman realizes his idea, if implemented, would be legally problematic, so he intends to remedy these concerns by requiring welfare beneficiaries to sign "a waiver of constitutional rights" with respect to drug testing. (Note to Rep. Fincher: Americans who are legally entitled to a public benefit cannot be forced to waive their constitutional rights in order to receive the benefit. Just FYI.)

While we wait to see how Fincher's bill does -- I have a hunch it won't go far -- and watch related efforts unfold in several states, I have one question for proponents of the idea: if you're genuinely concerned about those receiving government benefits possibly being drug addicts, why are you only targeting vulnerable, low-income beneficiaries?

Oil companies, for example, receive very generous corporate welfare. Do Republicans want the CEOs of ExxonMobil and Shell to pee in a cup before getting $4 billion a year? Defense contractors make hefty sums in contracts with the Pentagon. Should they be included in the drug-testing program, too, so as to ensure those receiving public funds are clean?