"Such a deal!"

No, they don't pitch it with those exact words. But the voices urging South Carolina's acceptance of "free" federal Medicaid expansion dollars do make it sound as if we can't afford to turn them down.

Gov. Nikki Haley, however, has turned them down - and rightly so - after looking that gift horse in the mouth.

If you doubt that assessment, ponder this first sentence from esteemed Post and Courier colleague Lauren Sasser's story on Friday's front page of The South section: "Health care providers cheated the South Carolina Medicaid program out of more than $30 million during the 2010 fiscal year, according to a new federal health care fraud report published Wednesday."

Sure, the Obama administration pledges to pay the extra Medicaid-expansion expenses (raising eligibility to 138 percent of poverty-level income) through 2017, with the states assuming a rising-but-small portion of the cost before topping out at 10 percent in 2020. The paradoxically titled 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act initially required the states to take that trade, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise in 2012, giving states the option to take it or leave it.

So why have 21 states left it?

Why have so many of us conservatives applauded that rejection?

Are we stupid?

You be the judge.

Are we hell-bent on opposing any and everything our current president wants?

No, at least not all of us.

Are we Snidely Whiplashes victimizing the poor?

No, though as a taxpaying landlord, that "Dudley Do-Right" villain does have a legal right to tell Nell Fenwick, "You must pay the rent!"

A triple threat

Americans who can count also have a free-speech right to warn that even if Washington keeps its end of the bargain (a wide leap of faith), expanding Medicaid also expands: 1) the ranks of the officially poor, 2) the chasm between federal income and outgo, and 3) the rampant fraud that inevitably infects entitlements.

The FBI estimates that in 2012, the cost of Medicare fraud ranged from $75 billion to $250 billion.

And Bill Gambrell, S.C. senior assistant attorney general and director of the state's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, offered this insight in Friday's aforementioned story: "Nothing can prevent an aggressive person who wants to defraud the system from doing it, but much of that tends to move into bigger states."

Swell. The bigger the state, the bigger the Medicaid fraud, the bigger the taxpayer load - including federal taxpayers.

And the longer the Nanny State's reach, the bigger the record national debt as ever-more people get ever-more government assistance from an ever-shrinking share of the populace with jobs. When Barack Obama became president five years and six weeks ago, 32 million Americans were on food stamps. Today, more than 47 million are.

In Saturday's New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof blamed opposition to social spending on a "compassion gap."

Yet what's so compassionate about locking so many into wards-of-the-state status?

And how can we provide a fair safety net without catching so many in the sticky web of government dependency?

Who will pay the tab?

Some inspiring folks still work their way up and out of hard times. As distinguished colleague David Slade reported on Monday's front page, Claudette Gill, 45-year-old North Charleston mother of four, went from getting federal rent-control subsidies after losing her job in 2009 to owning "a home and a growing business [a trucking company]."

And as reported in today's paper, S.C. employment numbers are at an all-time high - though in part because our population is at a record high.

Still, lots of other states are stuck in a "jobless" recovery.

As for fraud, ripping off Medicaid, Medicare and the food stamp program is bad enough. But a far more insidious fraud is the con that government can keep giving us a proliferating array of "free" benefits.

That's not "such a deal."

It's a sucker's deal.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.