Republican congressional candidate Scottie Mayfield called Medicaid recipients "non-taxpayers" in a position paper released Wednesday.
"Social Security and Medicare are programs we've promised to older Americans and they are entitled to them," Mayfield wrote. "Medicaid is not an entitlement. Welfare is not an entitlement. These and many other programs are charity, taking from one taxpayer and giving to a non-taxpayer."
The paper omits two facts -- that some have jobs and collect paychecks with regular deductions for Social Security, Medicare and other government-funded programs, and that all Medicaid enrollees who live in Tennessee pay state sales tax every time they buy groceries or anything else.
Records show that 1.2 million Tennesseans are enrolled in TennCare, the state's Medicaid program for poor, elderly and disabled residents. TennCare spokeswoman Kelly Gunderson said she could not provide a firm percentage or number of enrollees with jobs.
"But I can confirm with you that, yes, there are members of our program that are employed," Gunderson said.
The 1.2 million figure includes about 150,000 in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District -- the 11-county area Mayfield wants to represent.
Mayfield has said his challenge to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., is based on his own economic expertise and knowledge of the federal tax base -- who pays into it and how the money is spent.
Mayfield campaign spokesman Joe Hendrix did not respond to a request to clarify what the Athens, Tenn., dairy executive meant by "non-taxpayer." The position paper says churches and charities should handle health care for low-income Tennessee residents.
"And for those who truly cannot afford health care," the paper says, "we need new, more efficient programs that don't punish taxpayers but do help the truly needy -- emphasis on 'truly needy.'"
Third District Democratic candidate Bill Taylor characterized the non-taxpayer statement as incorrect and said voters won't appreciate Mayfield's "broad brush."
"Just because they may not have jobs doesn't mean they're not paying sales tax and, in their rent, an element of property tax," Taylor said. "I know small business owners who don't make a whole lot of money and they're on TennCare. I'd say they're contributing to the economy."
Fleischmann this year voted for Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" budget, which passed the House but never reached the Senate floor. Ryan's budget would slash federal Medicaid spending by $810 billion over the next decade and give states flexibility to run the program as they see fit, according to The Hill, a Washington, D.C.-based newspaper.
Fleischmann campaign spokesman Jordan Powell did not address a question about whether the congressman agreed with Mayfield's assessment that Medicaid recipients don't pay taxes.
"Earlier this year Chuck voted to reform welfare benefits and has co-sponsored legislation to do the same," Powell said.
Chattanooga businessmen Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp are the other 3rd District Republicans running against Fleischmann, while Maynardville physician Mary Headrick is challenging Taylor in the Democratic primary. Matthew Deniston is the only independent candidate in the race.