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Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com

Articles by Brian

Facing emboldened Democratic negotiators and a quickly thinning legislative calendar, House Republican leaders have offered to extend the payroll tax holiday through the end of the year without paying for it. The development represents a dramatic reversal for GOP leaders, who nearly allowed the payroll tax cut to lapse in December in part because of their insistence that the package be financially offset.

"Because the president and Senate Democratic leaders have not allowed their conferees to support a responsible bipartisan agreement, today House Republicans will introduce a backup plan that would simply extend the payroll tax holiday for the remainder of the year while the conference negotiations continue regarding offsets, unemployment insurance, and the 'doc fix,'" said GOP leaders in an official statement Monday afternoon.

That's a huge concession to legislative and political realities, and a tacit admission that Republican leaders desparately want to avoid another no-win fight over renewing a tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits the middle class.

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President Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget envisions the economy healing steadily after years of hemorrhaging and stagnation -- and key government services surviving mostly despite the violence done to the federal ledger by the Bush tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2008 financial crisis.

It also shows federal deficits declining steadily over the coming decade, and the national debt stabilizing as a share of GDP over the same period.

These are the consequences of multiple, competing strategic ideas:

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To set the policy agenda for the rest of the year, and to draw an election year contrast with the GOP -- and, of course, in accordance with the law -- the White House has unveiled its fiscal year 2013 budget. As outlined here, the budget is meant to serve as the completion of the 2011 debt limit fight. That fight locked in $1 trillion in spending cuts to federal programs. President Obama's budget includes billions of dollars in further cuts, but it also includes a crucial missing piece: tax revenues. To achieve a total of about $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the coming decade, Obama's calling for $1.5 trillion in new taxes over 10 years, taken from wealthy individuals and corporations. The reforms he's proposing would conform to the so-called Buffett Rule -- one of the key flanks of Obama's agenda, heading into an election against Republican party calling for further tax cuts for wealthy Americans. We'll break out key figures from the plan in a forthcoming post. For now, you can view the full document here

Reporters covering the GOP primary horse race may have moved on, but a key question continues to dog Mitt Romney's presidential campaign -- one that will loom large if he wins his party's nomination. Has he avoided U.S. taxes by investing a fortune offshore?

At a town hall event in Maine on Friday, an antagonistic questioner asked Romney, "Do you think it's patriotic of you to stash your money away in the Cayman Islands?"

In response, Romney correctly noted that money U.S. taxpayers invest offshore is largely taxed just as it would be if they invested it in the states. But he once again denied avoiding any U.S. taxes by investing offshore -- a claim tax experts openly doubt.

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Though required by law, White House budgets are largely political documents that tend to become more and more political as reelection time gets closer and closer.

This year's will technically be no different -- but the long-term stakes will be much higher than they usually are and clarifying that fact for voters will be key to President Obama's appeal in 2012.

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It's not officially budget day until Monday, but late Friday senior administration officials walked reporters through the highlights. 

 You can read an official summary here, but the bullet point version is pretty straight forward.

  • Deficit Reduction: $4 trillion over 10 years achieved largely by honoring the July debt limit deal, and by tax reforms that would both allow the Bush tax cuts for top earners to expire, and to enshrine a version of the Buffett rule into law. This section also includes hundreds of billions of dollars in as-yet unspecified cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other health programs, which will mimic proposals President Obama presented to the Super Committee in September.

 

  • Economic Growth: $350 billion in immediate job creation measures, largely gleaned from renewing the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment benefits.

 

  • Longer-Term Investments: Affordability programs for education, $140.8 billion for research and development, $476 billion for surface transportation, paid for largely with savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an infrastructure investment bank.

 

In the days since the conservative and religious uproar over the Obama administration's new contraceptive rule first erupted, the White House has been attempting to thread a policy needle so that nearly all women can receive free contraceptive services from their employer-provided health insurers, without forcing religious non-profits to provide benefits they oppose on "moral" grounds.

On Friday, President Obama announced the plan, which senior administration officials described in detail on a conference call with reporters.

"All women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services," one official said. But if a religious institution declines to provide coverage that includes contraceptive services, "the insurance company will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive coverage free of charge."

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On a conference call with reporters Friday, a senior administration official announced that the White House will move the onus to provide women free contraceptive services to insurance companies if their religiously-affiliated employers object to providing insurance coverage that covers birth control. 

 

"All women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services," the official said. "The insurance company will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive coverage free of charge," if the employer objects to providing that coverage in its benefit package.

 

 

ABC News reports the White House -- possibly President Obama himself -- will propose modest accommodations for religious organizations, unhappy with a recent administration rule requiring employer sponsored health insurance to cover contraception. 

The White House has been signaling a willingness to work with church-affiliated organizations on implementing the rule ever since the religious and conservative backlash to it rose to the surface in the past several days. Today's announcment could provide a sense of how wide a berth these religious groups will be given. 

Democrats are emboldened enough by their political turn of fortune that party leaders are laying payroll tax cut contretemps at the feet of Republicans rooting for further economic strife.

"[W]e've seen improvement: The unemployment rate's going down; people are getting back to work; there's a more confident air in America," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters Tuesday at a leadership briefing with reporters on Capitol Hill. "Let's make no mistake: There's some Republicans that don't think that really works with their strategy of defeating President Obama. These are some of the same voices that are opposing any bipartisan agreement to extend the payroll tax cuts."

Other top Democrats say the same.

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