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Pro-choice activists and politicians may have scored a victory with the news that the House abortion bill won't contain a redefinition of rape, but that hasn't made several prominent House Democrats any happier about the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.

"Look, my reaction is this is not really changing things that much," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told TPM in an interview today. "This exposed them for what their true intentions are. Now that they're exposed they're trying to put the genie back in the bottle, and it's not going to work."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) wasn't interested in giving the sponsors of H.R.3 much credit for altering their bill under pressure from pro-choice groups.

"It's still a totally flawed bill," Maloney told TPM. "I would call it the deepest attack on a woman's right to choose in my lifetime."

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The federal government could have prevented the massacre at Fort Hood allegedly perpetrated by Nadal Hasan if it had recognized signals of his radicalization prior to the attack, a special report issued by members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs concluded.

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On Thursday, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced new limits on spending to fund the government through the end of September. The proposal itself falls a bit short of the GOP pledge to slash spending by $100 billion, on a prorated basis, this fiscal year. But already Senate Democrats are warning Republicans that they'd better willing to negotiate toward the center, or they'll risk a government shutdown.

Indeed, top Democrats addressed reporters about the GOP proposal Thursday afternoon. They criticized the GOP's approach, and its leadership, for not taking a government shutdown off the table. They even brought Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) old economic adviser -- and Moody's chief economist -- Mark Zandi to the podium to buttress their case: a government shutdown would harm the economy, spending should not be cut dramatically right now, and the standoff should be resolved quickly.

"The chairman of the [House] Budget Committee today -- today -- sent us something more draconian than we originally anticipated," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. He called Ryan's plan "unworkable."

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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is expressing concern about the movements of radical Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr in and out of Iran and Iraq ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq later this year.

"I'm very concerned about Sadr's activity -- and his followers...I'll be pretty blunt," McCain said Thursday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

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In 2008, John McCain took perennial red state South Carolina by a nine point margin over Barack Obama in the presidential election. Looking forward to 2012 though, Obama seems poised to make that race a little tighter -- or to win it outright if Republicans nominate a particularly polarizing candidate like Sarah Palin, according to a new PPP poll.

In the poll, Obama trailed Mike Huckabee by a six point margin, 49% to 43%. He also lagged seven pints behind Mitt Romney, 49% to 42%. While neither result is really close enough to make the race a toss up, they do show the contest being slightly more competitive next year.

However, if the GOP nominates Palin or Gingrich -- or even tea partying native son Sen. Jim DeMint -- the race is a wholly different story.

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In another blow to boycott-ridden Conservative Political Action Conference, Sarah Palin has turned down the coveted-keynote speaker spot, making this the fourth time in a row Palin's skipped out on the conference.

Palin's political action committee SarahPAC is sponsoring the "Presidential Diamond Reception" on February 10 at CPAC, Ben Smith of Politico reports, so her absence is seemingly not part of the boycott.

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An interesting dynamic is taking shape in Congress as health care lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate wind their way up to the Supreme Court.

One potential outcome -- and the one that Republicans are hoping for -- is that the Supreme Court will invalidate the mandate and sever it from the law, leaving an unstable health care policy in place.

Theoretically, Congress could just change that mandate in a way that would easily pass constitutional muster -- simple tweaks that could pass in a matter of days and leave the implementation process largely unmolested.

But for that to happen, Republicans would have to play ball -- and that would mean giving up new-found leverage to really undercut the law. Don't fool yourself into thinking they'd give up that power willingly.

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The politics of nullification are now coming to the key early presidential caucus state of Iowa, where the Republican state House has just passed a bill outlawing the individual health insurance mandate in the federal health care reform law.

The Des Moines Register reports:

But it is not clear whether the states have the legal authority to exempt their residents from the requirements of the federal law.

Rep. Lance Horbach, R-Tama, said, however: "This bill deals with the federal government impeding upon states' rights and individuals' rights. We have the ability, the sovereign ability in the state of Iowa and as legislators representing the people, to make that decision. The federal government does not."


The bill is not guaranteed to pass, though: It now heads to the state Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority.

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The Obama Administration wants to bide its time on its legal defense of health care reform. In a statement to reporters Thursday morning, spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler says the Department of Justice is opposed to calls -- by Republicans and some Democrats -- for an expedited Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the health care law's individual mandate.

"The Department continues to believe this case should follow the ordinary course of allowing the court of appeals to hear it first so the issues and arguments concerning the Affordable Care Act can be fully developed before the Supreme Court decides whether to consider it," she says.

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