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Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote a letter dated Wednesday to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) warning that if sequestration goes into effect, it will cause furloughs and "do real harm" to national security.

"If faced with sequestration, the Defense Department will be forced to forego critical objectives," Panetta wrote, calling the cuts "destructive" and saying "the Department will have to consider furloughs across the entire defense civilian workforce in order to meet the fiscal target mandated by sequestration."

He warned that as a result, "the workload on each employee and the requirements for each position that will result from such furloughs will be increased beyond what can reasonably be achieved."

"The furloughs contemplated by this notice will do real harm to our national security," Panetta wrote.

When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments next week about the constitutionality of a key element of the Voting Rights Act, the Obama administration and other proponents of the law will be facing five very skeptical justices.

Shelby County v. Holder is the latest in a string of landmark cases that will shape the legacy of the Roberts Court. Proponents of the law are extremely nervous, and privately acknowledge that they face a steep uphill climb in winning over a majority of the justices.

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A total of 26 Republican-led or Republican-leaning states have declined to establish insurance exchanges, a centerpiece of the reforms ushered in by the Affordable Care Act, ceding control of a critical element of their health care system to the federal government.

The ACA requires the creation of the one-stop marketplaces called exchanges to connect buyers and sellers of health insurance -- the vehicle through which the law would expand coverage and protect consumers. The law encourages states to build their own exchanges under the guidelines. If they refuse, the federal government will take on the task.

By last Friday's deadline, just 17 states and Washington, D.C., submitted their plans for exchanges. Just four of them are governed by Republicans -- Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. An additional seven states intend to build their exchanges in partnership with the federal government. The exchanges are scheduled to go live on Jan. 1, 2014.

Of the remaining 26, twenty-four have Republican governors. The other two, Montana and Missouri, have decidedly conservatives electorates and Republican-controlled legislatures.

Kaiser Health News has a chart of where the states stand:

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President Obama has already gone to battle twice with Republicans on momentous fiscal issues since his re-election. Both times the GOP caved.

Will they do so again?

President Obama delivered a speech Tuesday morning in the White House complex detailing the "troubling" consequences of the sequester -- deep, indiscriminate spending cuts to defense and domestic programs set to take effect on March 1 -- and demanding that Republicans drop their blanket opposition to raising revenues in a deal to avoid it.

Flanked by a group of first responders, Obama called the cuts "arbitrary" and "brutal," warning that they will "hurt our economy" and cost "hundreds of thousands" of jobs.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement Tuesday that President Obama's speech on the sequester suggests that the president prefers campaigning to finding a solution.

"Today’s event at the White House proves once again that more than three months after the November election, President Obama still prefers campaign events to common sense, bipartisan action. Surely the President won't cut funds to first responders when just last year Washington handed out an estimated $115 billion in payments to individuals who weren’t even eligible to receive them, or at a time when 11 different government agencies are funding 90 different green energy programs. That would be a terrible and entirely unnecessary choice by a President who claims to want bipartisan reform."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) backed up President Obama's speech Tuesday about avoiding the sequester by suggesting that the GOP's position that no new revenues are acceptable won't last.

His statement:

“President Obama is right: to give our economy a foundation for growth Congress must replace the sequester with a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Senate Democrats will soon vote on a plan to temporarily replace the harsh austerity of the sequester with a combination of smart spending cuts and measures that close wasteful corporate tax loopholes and subsidies, and ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.

“But for Congress to act, Republicans must get off the sidelines. So far, Republicans have shown that they would rather let the sequester go into effect, or make even deeper cuts to Medicare, education and medical research, than close a single wasteful tax loophole. Republicans’ position is untenable, but only time will tell how many people must lose their jobs before Republicans listen to the overwhelming majority of Americans, and work with Democrats to forge a balanced approach.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) swiftly responded to President Obama's Tuesday speech about avoiding the sequester by affirming that tax loopholes are off the table to raise new revenues. He said they must only be used to lower tax rates.

“Today the president advanced an argument Republicans have been making for a year: his sequester is the wrong way to cut spending. That’s why the House has twice passed legislation to replace it with common sense cuts and reforms that won’t threaten public safety, national security, or our economy. But once again, the president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress – only more calls for higher taxes. Just last month, the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he’s already back for more. The American people understand that the revenue debate is now closed. We should close loopholes and carve-outs in the tax code, but that revenue should be used to lower rates across the board. Tax reform is a once-in-a generation opportunity to boost job creation in America.  It should not be squandered to enable more Washington spending. Spending is the problem, spending must be the focus.

“Washington Democrats’ newfound concern about the president’s sequester is appreciated, but words alone won’t avert it. Replacing the president’s sequester will require a plan to cut spending that will put us on the path to a budget that is balanced in 10 years.  To keep these first responders on the job, what other spending is the president willing to cut?”

On ABC's "This Week" Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was asked why he praised the August 2011 law that contained the sequester and the spending cuts it entailed.

His exchange with host Jonathan Karl:

KARL:  But Congressman, I've heard you say this and a talking point for Republicans for a long time.  This was the president's idea on and on and on, but let's look at your own words.  What you said right after the law putting this in place was passed in August of 2011.  These are your words.  You said "what conservatives like me have been fighting for, for years are statutory caps on spending, literally legal caps in law that says government agencies cannot spend over a set amount of money and if they  breach that amount across the board sequester comes in to cut that spending.  You can't turn it out without a supermajority.  We got that into law."

Now it sounds to me there like if you weren't taking credit for the idea of the sequester, you  were certainly suggesting it was a good idea.

RYAN:  So those are the budget caps on discretionary spending.  Those occurred.  We want those.  Everybody wants budget caps.  The sequester we're talking about now was backing up the super committee.  Remember the super committee in addition to those caps was supposed to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings.  The Republicans on the super committee offered even higher revenues in exchange for spending cuts as part of that.  It was rejected by the president and the Democrats.  So no resolution occurred and therefore the sequester is occurring.  And what we've always said is let's cut spending in smarter ways to replace this sequester.  We passed two bills doing that and we've heard  nothing in response from the Senate Democrats or the president.

A copy of the White House's draft immigration proposal, leaked as a warning shot to Congress to get its act together, was swiftly and fiercely rejected by a Republican central to the negotiations. Other key Republicans echoed him. The White House responded on Sunday.

In a statement Saturday after President Obama's draft bill was leaked to USA Today, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) dubbed the proposal "half-baked and seriously flawed," saying it would exacerbate the country's immigration problems. He promised it would be "dead on arrival" in Congress.

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Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) demurred when asked Sunday on ABC's "This Week" if he intends to run for president in 2016.

He said he's "not foreclosing any opportunity" but he literally does not know the answer.

The point is this, I think the most important thing for me to do is do my job representing the first district of Wisconsin, trying to prevent a debt crisis, helping get a solution to the economy, to jobs, to getting our deficit and debt under control.

That it me is my first priority.  That's what I'm focused on.  Will I or won't I?  I don't know.  I literally do not know the answer to these questions about what is the best role for me to play to fix these problems for our country in the future.

The point is I don't know the answer because I'm just not putting a great deal of thought into it.

I'm not foreclosing any opportunity.  I may or I may not.  I just don't know because right now we just had an election.  We've got jobs to do.

 

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