The GOP's Real Agenda

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In Republican politics, limited government ends at a woman's vagina. Early this year, the GOP-controlled legislature of Arkansas passed a bill outlawing abortion after just 12 weeks' gestation, a law "designed to dial the clock back 40 years," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The measure was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who decried it as "blatantly" unconstitutional – under Supreme Court precedent a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy before at least 22 weeks. But in March, the state legislature voted to override the veto, enacting the most restrictive abortion law in the nation – and setting up a certain court challenge that may tempt the Roberts court to reconsider Roe v. Wade.

Republican legislatures across the country are also pushing bills that would force a woman to be penetrated by a dildonic-ultrasound wand before she can legally terminate her pregnancy. A similar bill in Virginia last year became synonymous with the Republican party's "War on Women" – a PR fiasco that contributed to the loss of at least two Senate seats. But state Republicans are unabashed in supporting ultrasound mandates: "This bill is a priority," said Scott Fitzgerald, Republican state senate leader in Wisconsin. "It is long overdue."

In Indiana, lawmakers have sought to punish women seeking access to the abortion pill RU-486 by forcing them to undergo not one but two ultrasound penetrations. Public outcry forced the legislature to reduce the ultrasound mandate to one. "This bill is about politics, not women's health or safety," said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. "Statehouse politicians need to get out of our doctors' offices."


The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the constitutionality of Obama-​care last year also gave states the right to opt out of an expansion of Medicaid – the joint state-federal insurance program – to cover the working poor.

A few high-profile Republican governors, including Rick Scott of Florida and Christie in New Jersey, have embraced this Medicaid expansion as a sweetheart deal: The federal government will pay all costs for new enrollees for three years, ponying up 90 percent thereafter. But other GOP leaders who despise government are content to put the health of millions at risk rather than sacrifice ideology.

Rick Perry in Texas – who calls Social Security a "disease" – is refusing to expand Medicaid, claiming it would "threaten even Texas with financial ruin." In fact, Perry is looking a gift horse in the mouth. The feds would give the state $100 billion over a decade to cover nearly 2 million residents, while requiring just $15 billion in state matching funds. Perry's prominent peers include Govs. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who count among the nearly 20 GOP leaders who so far have refused to expand coverage.

Even the Republicans' best efforts to demonstrate that the party is moving forward have backfired. The Violence Against Women Act expired in 2011, and Republican obstructionism blocked its reauthorization. After the election, GOP leaders were desperate to put the issue behind them. But to pass VAWA in February, Speaker Boehner had to suspend normal House rules, which require a majority of the majority party to pass a bill, and team up with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to reauthorize the law. In all, 160 House and Senate members voted against the act – all of them Republicans.

If this is the "new" Republican party, it looks even more radical than your father's, or even your grandfather's. A leading new face on the party's right flank – Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – recalls a famous 1950s Republican right down to the crook in his nose. Channeling Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Cruz has declared Barack Obama to be "the most radical" president in our history, adding that Obama was educated at Harvard Law School by "Marxists" who, Cruz insists, "believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government."

It may be tempting to believe that danger posed by the GOP's lunatic fringe is cabined off in the House and the states of the Great Flyover. But 2014 is already looming, and vulnerable Democrats will be contesting Senate seats in red states from Alaska to Arkansas and Louisiana to South Dakota, as well as in hotly contested battlegrounds like Virginia and North Carolina. Flip just six seats, and the GOP will control Congress – and set the agenda of the last two years of the Obama administration. Here's hoping that when the next wave of Todd Akins or Richard Mourdocks charge onto the scene – mouthing off about "legitimate rape" or the latest Tea Party cause célèbre, that the American body politic has the good sense to shut that whole thing down.

This story is from the March 28th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

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