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Sean Duffy Poor Enough to Qualify for Obamacare Subsidies?

Not an April Fools' Day joke.

10:59 AM, Apr 1, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Democrats have been mocking freshman GOP congressman Sean Duffy this week for saying at a recent townhall event in his northern Wisconsin district, "I struggle to meet my bills right now."

Sean Duffy

"Struggling" on a congressman's salary of $174,000? The Wisconsin Democratic party pounced and produced a flyer advertising an April Fools' Day "food and clothes drive for poor Sean Duffy." The flyer requested items such as "top hats and monocles," "french-cuffed shirts," "oyster spoons," and "last year's Bulgari, Givenchy and Versace."

Democrats were, of course, ignoring Duffy's explanation for his struggles--that there are eight mouths to feed in his family and that he took no pay during the second half of 2010. While he was running for office Duffy stepped down from his job as district attorney and, according to a spokesman, had to take out a loan. He made just over $50,000 in 2010 and had only received one pay check as a member of Congress by the time of the February townhall event.

By any standard, $50,000 for a family of eight is not much money at all--the federal poverty line for a family of eight was $37,010 in 2010. And even Talking Points Memo acknowledges that Duffy is one of the poorest members of Congress, a wealthy bunch, to be sure. Still, TPM's Evan McMorris-Santoro asserts, the Duffys' 2009 income of $154,000 made them "objectively well-off when it comes to a family from Wisconsin. Median household income there in 2008 was $52,103, according to the Census." 

Well, yes, the Duffys had three times the median income for a family for one year, but they also have three times the children of a typical family. Does that really make them "objectively well-off" or "wealthy"? In a typical year the Duffys actually earned somewhere around $100,000--in 2009 they had gross income of $154,000 because of a one-time infusion of $50,000 for a book Duffy's wife Rachel wrote.

So the Duffys' income in a typical year was roughly three times the poverty line. How can they be considered wealthy if Obamacare's "middle class" subsidies will go to families whose modified adjusted gross income is up to four times the poverty line, or $150,520 for a family of eight this year? Even on a congressman's salary, Duffy's modified adjusted gross income is not much more than $150,000 (modified AGI excludes items such as retirement savings and student loan interest).

"I think [Duffy's] objectively a gold-bricker," Wisconsin Democratic party spokesman Graeme Zielinski told me during a phone interview Thursday afternoon. But how can someone be wealthy if his income is close to the threshold for receiving Obamacare subsidies? "Is that the standard?" Zielinski asked. "If you qualify for subsidies it means that you’re not wealthy?"

That's exactly the question. If Democrats want to claim that Duffy is wealthy, then they must also believe that some wealthy people will receive federal subsidies under Obamacare.

Zielinski claimed both that "Sean Duffy is wealthy" and that Obamacare subsidies will not go to wealthy people. How one can believe both statements is a bit puzzling.

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