For a clear sense of what the Republican Party has in store for the entire country, were it able to get its clutches on all the levers of power, North Carolina is becoming an increasingly illuminating place to look. With the election of the allegedly "moderate" Pat McCrory as governor last November, the Republican takeover of state government was complete. And in six short months, motivated by willful ignorance, spite and contempt, the party has cut a category-five hurricane swathe of destruction through the state, the damage from which could take years to undo. Tar Heel Republicans have, among other things, rejected Medicaid expansion, terminated long-term unemployment benefits despite an ongoing employment crisis in the state, passed tax proposals that virtually exclusively benefit wealthy North Carolinians at the expense of everyone else, passed severe new restrictions on access to abortion providers (the governor has expressed some concerns about the bill) and pushed through new voting restrictions in order, primarily, to suppress minority voting .
The substantive consequences of this agenda are dire. But what's especially striking about this relentless march of destructive policy-making is the unrelieved cowardice and dishonesty emanating from Raleigh in justifying this horror show.
Let's start with the bill passed last week to severely restrict North Carolina women's access to abortion providers. The GOP re-introduced a bill it had originally debated in April to ban Shari'a law in the state (because, well, you know...). Tacked onto that preposterous bill were a series of new regulations and restriction on the types of facilities that could provide abortion. According to legislative analysis, perhaps only one facility in the state that currently provides abortions would meet the new standards. Republicans, naturally, did not primarily argue for the legislation on the grounds that they want to make it as difficult as possible for women to exercise a constitutionally protected right. Instead, they insisted that they were concerned with women's health (Governor Walker of Wisconsin and Texas Republicans have similarly offered such transparently bogus rationales for signing off on comparably restrictive legislation). But as state Senator Josh Stein noted, abortion provision is already heavily regulated. Furthermore, other outpatient procedures not subject to the new regulations, like colonoscopies, are far more dangerous than abortions. In other words, singling out abortion provision for singular regulatory oversight has no valid basis in medical fact. The nearly inescapable effect of this bill, assuming it becomes law, would be to drive more women underground for abortions, increasing the likelihood of adverse health consequences for many.
But beyond that, the GOP claim that they care about health is simple, 100 percent nonsense. In more than a dozen states, including the aforementioned North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, Republicans have rejected Medicaid expansion. The implications of this decision are clear. In North Carolina, upwards of half a million people who would have received health coverage under Medicaid expansion are being denied. As the health economics expert Dr. Aaron Carroll has said about the consequences of such decisions, states "can focus on how much they're willing to spend to save lives, but they shouldn't deny that that's what's at stake." Denying half a million people health insurance will result in more severe illness and death, plain and simple. As in other matters, the state GOP's arguments for rejecting Medicaid are baseless. When they weren't busy whining about being accused of ill will, North Carolina Republicans claimed that expansion would cost the state too much money. But in fact, the federal government would have paid for all of the expansion for the first three years, all but five percent of it for the next three, and 90 percent thereafter. When one factors in the job-creating benefits of the massive influx of federal dollars and the reduced costs of things like emergency room care, independent analysis suggests that the state's fiscal health would improve as a consequence of expansion. So, the GOP rejected a program that would create thousands of new jobs, cover over half a million North Carolinians and reduce overall state expenditures on health.
We already know that perhaps the biggest of all Republican lies is that they care about budget deficits and fiscal prudence. While they falsely claimed that Medicaid expansion would be too costly for North Carolina, their favored tax proposals are projected to significantly worsen the state's fiscal position. Reductions in tax rates for the wealthiest North Carolinians, as well as possible elimination of the state estate tax (which affects a tiny sliver of the wealthiest families in the state but generates a decent amount of revenue), translates into additional deficits of a billion dollars by 2018. In turn, the state will be compelled to further cut its already miserly education budgets and other services for the less well off (this is, of course, Starve-the-Beast 101).
Likewise, the decision to terminate long-term unemployment benefits, which is accompanied by the removal of matching federal dollars from the state will, contrary to the claims of Republicans, only worsen unemployment itself. All credible independent analysis suggests that their willfully spiteful decision to reject these Washington dollars in the current economic climate will only worsen North Carolina's terrible unemployment problem (the state has the fifth highest rate in the country). So much for being the party of job creators.
The self-image of the contemporary right is as clear-eyed men (and women) of principle -- folks willing to tell the hard truths about how government-led indulgence has undermined our moral fabric, weakened our resolve and stunted our initiative as free people. That self-image stands in stark contrast to the reality we see before us day after day -- of a party and movement that consistently misstates facts, hides its true motives behind transparent falsehoods and restricts the rights of groups of people it holds in contempt.
So, for Christ's sake, please stop telling us that you want to drive women back to the back alley because you care about their health. Stop telling us you care about fiscal prudence when three decades of evidence makes abundantly clear that in a choice between responsible budgets and giveaways to the rich, you will choose the latter almost every time. Stop telling us that you want to pass laws to restrict minority voting because you claim to want to address the essentially non-existent problem of voter fraud. And, please, stop telling us that you take to heart the teachings of the Lord when, lacking remotely credible reasons, you reject health programs that could save thousands of lives a year, all because you just don't think the poor deserve anything but their suffering. Cowardice and cruelty -- that combination has become the calling card of too much of the contemporary GOP. And North Carolina has quickly become Exhibit A for that sickening display.
Follow Jonathan Weiler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonweiler