In it, but not of it. TPM DC

After Virginia Republicans blocked Medicaid expansion under Obamacare in June, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe was defiant. He pledged to return in the fall with an alternative plan that would unilaterally help cover low-income Virginians. "We're moving forward," he said.

But the plan McAuliffe announced Monday falls far short of pushing through the Medicaid expansion his state's Republicans have fought so hard.

McAuliffe's plan, formulated after extensive discussions between state and federal officials, will directly cover only about 25,000 Virginians -- a fraction of the 400,000 low-income residents who would be covered by Medicaid expansion. So for now, it seems, the GOP has won in its showdown with the governor over this key provision of Obamacare.

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When Congress returns this week, House Republican leaders' mission will be to act swiftly to fund the government and avoid the drama of a shutdown confrontation.

The task appears simple: pass legislation to keep the federal government operating as it currently is when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 — no extraneous provisions, no gamesmanship like last year.

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Obamacare's premiums are going down on average in 2015, according to a report released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and that's good news overall and particularly good news for the federal government that helps pay the premiums for more than 80 percent of enrollees.

But, as always, there is a bit of a catch. Premiums are changing in a way that consumers need to be aware of. The benchmark being used to determine their subsidies under the law is changing in some places -- meaning some people will need to switch to a new plan to keep paying the same premium or they might have to pay more to keep the plan they currently have.

After the keep-your-plan fiasco of last fall, the Obama administration has set up an auto-renew feature for Obamacare enrollees in 2015. The administration has also issued guidance that insurance companies should notify customers that they can shop on the insurance marketplaces for other deals. But the big unknown is: Will they? If enrollees go the auto-renew route without exploring the market, they could be stuck paying more for their coverage.

While this all could create some hiccups during the upcoming enrollment period, it's not a bug. It's part of the law's structure. The government needed some baseline for its subsidies. And that does put a bit of the onus on consumers to make sure they aren't left with a bigger bill. Here's how it works:

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In the wacky world of Kansas politics, the big question is whether the GOP secretary of state's decision to keep the Democratic nominee on the Senate ballot is ultimately a bad thing for Democrats. Go figure.

The (allegedly) well-laid plans of Democrats in the Kansas Senate race were seemingly undone Thursday when Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) declared that Chad Taylor, the Democratic nominee who said he was withdrawing from the race, would remain on the ballot in November.

Democrats' apparent gambit was to get Taylor to clear the field for independent candidate Greg Orman, who flirted with running for Senate as a Democrat in 2008, to challenge incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). Democratic voters would presumably line up against anybody-but-Roberts, who would now be Orman with no Taylor to vote for, and a Republican incumbent would unexpectedly lose re-election in a national landscape where control of the Senate could come down to a single seat.

Taylor has said he will challenge the decision by Kobach, a member of Roberts' honorary campaign committee. But if the countermove stands, would it undo the Democratic gambit? Maybe, according to a local political scientist. At best, it would leave Orman with an exceedingly narrow path to victory.

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Sen. Rand Paul said on Friday he'd vote to authorize further air strikes against ISIS "in a heartbeat," changing his position on how the U.S. should deal with the radical Islamic group.

"I would vote yes and I would do it in a heartbeat. Radical Islam is a threat to the United States, our embassies, our journalists," the Kentucky Republican said on Fox News, adding that President Barack Obama needs to seek permission from Congress.

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Is Justice Antonin Scalia the ironic hero of the gay rights movement?

Somehow, the conservative jurist's arguments in prior opinions have become a regular feature in lower court rulings legalizing gay marriage. The latest example came Thursday in a decision by renowned Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, with whom Scalia has an ongoing feud.

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The breadcrumbs were there, but it's fair to say that Democrat Chad Taylor stunned the political world when he announced Wednesday that he was dropping out of the Kansas Senate race. That leaves independent Greg Orman, who was once a Democrat, to challenge incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) in November's general election.

It bewildered outsiders in part because Taylor was performing admirably for a Democrat in the state with the longest gap since it lasted elected one to the Senate. TPM's PollTracker average had Taylor trailing by less than 6 percentage points.

But did Democrats really think the best shot of knocking of Roberts was to clear the field for Orman, even if that meant getting their own nominee out of the race? Or was something else going on, too?

Political observers in Kansas suggest looking at the state's gubernatorial election contest. State Sen. Paul Davis (D) seems to have a real shot at knocking off Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative stalwart; Davis leads by 6 percentage points, per TPM's PollTracker average.

With Taylor out of the race, in-state Democrats can focus almost all of their attention on Davis. And if some recent polling is to be believed, Orman still has a realistic shot to beat Roberts and he's a former Democrat who's said he's open to caucusing with either party. That's a potential win-win.

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