TPM News

After pressure from women's groups, Democratic politicians and Jon Stewart, the authors of the controversial abortion bill in the House will drop language that appeared to exempt some rape victims from seeking federal help to pay for an abortion.

Politico reports this morning that Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the lead sponsor of the bill and chair of the House pro-life caucus, will remove the phrase "forcible rape" from the bill and replace it with the same wording used in the Hyde Amendment. That Amendment bans federal abortion coverage already, and proponents of the House law say their goal was to make Hyde -- which has to be renewed every year -- a permanent fixture of federal law.

"The word forcible will be replaced with the original language from the Hyde Amendment," Jeff Sagnip, a spokesperson for Smith, told Politico. Smith's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPM.

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Democrats are holding together to close backdoor efforts to kill the health care law better than the GOP would like.

They would prefer that vulnerable Democrats to join them in support of a new measure that would allow states to opt out of key provisions of the law -- a plan designed to weaken and kill it.

But at least one of those Democrats isn't biting.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) says he likes pieces of that measure -- in particular allowing states to opt out of the law's call for a Medicaid expansion. But he can't support it overall.

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Early Maneuvering On Possible Shutdown The New York Times reports: "Democrats do not intend to shut up when it comes to a potential government shutdown. Well aware that a 1995 budget impasse during the early days of Republican control of the House backfired on the new majority, Democrats are moving pre-emptively this time to frame the battle on their terms."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will deliver remarks this morning at the National Prayer Breakfast. He will receive the presidential daily briefing at 9:30 a.m. ET. He will depart from the White House at 10:05 a.m. Et, and depart from Andrews Air Force Base at 10:20 a.m. Et, arriving at 11:05 a.m. ET in University Park, Pennsylvania. At 11:30 a.m. ET, he will tour labs at Pennsylvania State University, and deliver remarks on innovation at 12 p.m. ET. He will depart from University Park at 1:20 p.m. ET, will arrive at Andrews Air Force Base at 2:05 p.m. ET, and will arrive back at the White House at 2:20 p.m. ET.

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Former Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), who moderated an event on behalf of the Iranian opposition group MEK in Washington D.C. two weeks ago, told TPM in an interview that he is "personally offended" that the group is currently considered a terrorist organization by the State Department. He acknowledged that some of the group's history -- which includes the assassination of several U.S. military personnel and civilians in the 1970s -- is "not good," but argued that the MEK has changed, and is now "one of the only effective tools against the government in Tehran."

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Over a three year period, the Defense Department spent hundreds of billions of dollars on defense contractors who paid millions in civil fines to resolve fraud cases -- and even spent $682 million on 30 contractors who were convicted in criminal fraud cases.

That's according to a report prepared by the Pentagon thanks to a provision in their spending bill by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that requires them to prepare a report on the fraud committed by contractors. The latest report covers fiscal years 2007 through 2009, and says that the government paid $270 billion to 91 various contractors who were involved in civil fraud cases that resulted in judgments of more than $1 million.

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Last year, Republican Carly Fiorina put a scare into the Democratic Party by making her race against incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) seem close, if only for a few months. Yet Republicans may have less cause for excitement when they challenge Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) in 2012, as a new PPP poll shows Feinstein dominating a slate of prominent GOP challengers by anywhere from 14 to 34 points.

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The Senate Ethics Committee's decision to appoint a special counsel to lead the investigation into activities surrounding Sen. John Ensign's (R-NV) affair with a political staffer is raising age-old questions about the panel's relevancy.

Members of Congress are the first to admit that they hate serving on the Ethics Committee, and policing their peers puts them in an unusually awkward position. If that's the case and the panel has to farm out its work to true professional investigators, then why have lawmakers investigating their colleagues misbehavior in the first place?

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NBC News and Politico hope to kick off the 2012 presidential race with one of the earliest televised debates in recent memory, scheduled for May 2 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. But it sounds like the show might have to go on without one of the top contenders for the nomination.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this afternoon, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he hasn't accepted the invitation to appear at the debate yet, and criticized the timing of the event which comes more than 6 months before the first Iowa voters head out to caucus.

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