If there’s one reason I’m skeptical of significant Republican reform—beyond the shaky electoral case for doing so—it’s that the Republican Party as a whole has taken a sharp turn to the right, even in states where its long-term survival depends on broadening its appeal to Latinos, African Americans and other groups.
There’s the Texas GOP’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and its ongoing push to restrict—or effectively end—abortion services in the state. There’s Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s aborted attempt to end income taxes in the state and place a large new sales tax burden on its low-income residents. There’s the Kansas GOP’s successful attempt to do the same, and now there’s the North Carolina Republican Party’s effort to end unemployment insurance in the state.
Yesterday, 70,000 North Carolinians lost unemployment benefits as the result of deep cuts to the state-based unemployment system. Those cuts disqualify the state from federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which requires states to maintain a minimum level of average weekly benefits. Overall this year, about 170,000 workers whose state benefits run out this year will also lose federal assistance. The direct result of this will be a hit to North Carolina’s economy and further harm for the state’s low-income families.
As a matter of policy, the cuts make little sense. But as a matter of ideology, they fit perfectly. The current crop of Republicans—both nationally and on the state level—hold a basic hostility toward government assistance for the disadvantaged. It’s what animates Paul Ryan’s budget—which calls for massive cuts to the federal social safety net—as well as last year’s GOP rage against the “47 percent.” In Congress, divided government has blocked attempts to codify this disdain into law. The same, however, isn’t true for GOP-controlled state legislatures.
If state and local Republican parties are benches for the national GOP, then—as time progresses—we should see even more growth in the wing of the party that opposes all parts of the social safety net. And indeed, if these Republicans—and their constituents—are the ones who will ultimately choose the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, then we should expect another year of GOP candidates jockeying to show their disdain for the poor.