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Dylan Scott

Dylan Scott is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. He previously reported for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., and the Las Vegas Sun. His work has been recognized with a 2013 American Society of Business Publication Editors award for Best Feature Series and a 2010 Associated Press Society of Ohio award for Best Investigative Reporting. He can be reached at dylan@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Dylan

President Barack Obama signed into law Thursday the two-year budget agreement passed this month by the House and Senate.

Over the next two years, the deal replaces $63 billion of the automatic cuts known as sequestration with more targeted spending cuts and new revenue via, among other things, higher airline ticket fees. It is projected to lower the federal deficit by $23 billion in the next decade.

The budget had passed with solid majorities in each chamber: 64-36 in the Senate and 332-94 in the House.

Evidence from the state-based Obamacare websites suggest that enrollment under the health care reform law accelerated ahead of the deadline to sign up for coverage that starts in January -- a much-needed spike that could go a long way toward getting the program back on track after its disastrous launch.

Official December enrollment numbers from HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states, won't be available till mid-January, but the 15 state-based websites have been releasing their data more regularly and those figures are showing a surge in enrollments over the last few weeks in advance of the Dec. 23 deadline to enroll for Jan. 1 coverage.

California officials said 400,000 people had enrolled as of Dec. 23 -- up from 107,000 at the end of the November. The Golden State was reporting more than 25,000 enrollments per day last week after averaging 15,000 the week before. In New York, 107,000 people signed up between Dec. 9 and Dec. 23 -- more than enrolled in all of October and November.

Connecticut set a record Monday with 6,700 sign-ups, pushing its total above 62,000 after sitting at 24,266 at the end of November. More than 10,000 people enrolled in Washington on Monday -- the total there is now more than 65,000, up from 17,700 in the first two months. Even Oregon, where the website had failed so badly that only 44 people were enrolled by Nov. 30, had upped its enrollment to 12,000 by Tuesday.

And those are just private insurance enrollees. The Obama administration said last week that 3.9 million had been determined eligible for Medicaid since HealthCare.gov and the state websites went live on Oct. 1, with the December numbers still to come.

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Two million people visited HealthCare.gov on Monday, the ostensible deadline to sign up through Obamacare for health coverage that starts in January, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The administration announced Monday, though, that anyone who enrolled in coverage by the end of the day Tuesday would still be covered on Jan. 1. After Tuesday, the earliest that one's coverage would start would be Feb. 1.

The high volume forced CMS to deploy the website's queueing system, which asked a total of 129,000 people to come back later to complete their application.

CMS said that traffic remained high Tuesday, though not as high as Monday, and the queueing system had not been activated.

A musician from the Russian protest group Pussy Riot told The Guardian that her imprisonment included nearly three weeks of forced daily gynecological exams.

"I decided to become a human rights activist when I realised how easy it was for officials to make a decision and force women to be examined in the most intimate parts of their bodies. Russian officials should not stay unpunished, they cannot have this kind of absolute power over us," Maria Alyokhina, who was put in prison for almost two years after a performance critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said.

Staff for a public oversight commission confirmed to The Guardian that women in Russian prisons, including Alyokhina, had been subjected to the treatment.

Alyokhina and another member of the group were released from prison Monday.

For the second time in a week, a federal judge embraced U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent from this summer's ruling overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act in a case challenging a state's ban on gay marriage.

Scalia was adamant in his dissent that the logic of the DOMA decision would result in state bans being overturned. In his decision Monday declaring that Ohio must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages on death certificates, federal district judge Timothy Black wrote:

And now it is just as Justice Scalia predicted -- the lower courts are applying the Supreme Court’s decision, as they must, and the question is presented whether a state can do what the federal government cannot -- i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004). Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.

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More than 400,000 Californians have enrolled in health coverage under Obamacare as of Sunday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The numbers are preliminary. State officials said enrollment had spiked with the approaching Monday deadline for signing up for coverage that starts in January: 27,000 people enrolled Sunday -- more than HealthCare.gov, which is serving 36 states, signed up in all of October.

The Obama administration has repeatedly pledged that enrollment would spike ahead of this week's deadline. President Obama said last week that more than 500,000 people enrolled through HealthCare.gov in the first three weeks of this month alone -- more than doubling the total enrollments that the federal website saw in October and November combined.

President Barack Obama has signed up for health coverage under Obamacare.

A White House aide said Monday that the president enrolled in a health plan through the Washington, D.C. insurance marketplace over the weekend. He picked a bronze plan, which covers 60 percent of medical costs.

"The act of the President signing up for insurance coverage through the DC exchange is symbolic since the President’s health care will continue to be provided by the military," the aide said.

Obama will pay premiums for the plan, though, the aide said. The insurance would cover only the president, not his wife or children, and the premium will be less than $400 per month.

Monday, Dec. 23, is supposed to be the official deadline for enrolling in Obamacare for coverage that starts Jan. 1, but the Obama administration has built some wiggle room into that deadline.

The Washington Post first reported the change, which the the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services then effectively confirmed.

CMS explained that HealthCare.gov's system had been programmed to accept applications through the end of the day Tuesday and have the coverage begin on Jan. 1. Officials said that the change had been made in anticipation of high traffic and other potential technical issues ahead of Monday's deadline.

Julie Bataille, a CMS spokeswoman, insisted that Monday was still the final deadline, though the accompanying guidance effectively makes the new deadline Tuesday, as the Post had reported.

"We recognize that many have chosen to make their final decisions on today’s deadline and we are committed to making sure they can do so," Bataille said in a statement. "Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for Jan 1.”

The Post had reported that the administration had made a change to HealthCare.gov's backend that would automatically set people's coverage to start on Jan. 1 if they enrolled by 11:59 p.m. EST on Dec. 24, effectively giving Americans an extra day to sign up for January coverage.

The newspaper cited "two individuals with knowledge of the switch."

One source told the Post that the extension was intended to be a "buffer" in case heavy traffic affected the website's performance on Monday. The sources said that the change was automatic and therefore couldn't be accepted or declined by insurance companies.

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