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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

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Thursday excoriated Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) filibuster talkathon the previous day both for its substance and the fear that the spectacle could embolden the cause of reforming the filibuster.

"What we saw yesterday is going to give ammunition to those critics who say that the rules of the Senate are being abused," he said on the floor. "I hope that my colleagues on this side of the aisle will take that in information."

McCain co-authored a scaled-back rules change that preserved the filibuster and became the basis for the bipartisan deal, defeating a more far-reaching reform proposal.

"We were able to put a side of the there was another effort just at the beginning of this Senate to do away with 60 votes and [go] back down to 51, which in my view would have destroyed the Senate," he said Thursday. 'A group of us worked very hard for a long time to come up with some compromises that would allow the Senate to move more rapidly ... and efficiently, but at the same time preserve a 60-vote majority requirement on some pieces of legislation."

The Senate's leading champion of filibuster reform called for renewing the effort to weaken the minority's obstruction power, concluding that a modest rules change enacted in January has failed to discourage Republicans from grinding the chamber to a halt.

In an interview on Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the author of a proposal to place more of the burden of sustaining a filibuster on the minority party, including forcing filibustering senators to speak on the floor, echoed remarks by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) earlier in the day about the need to revisit filibuster reform.

"Senate Republicans have demonstrated that they have absolutely no intention of ending their assault on the ability of the U.S. Senate to function," Merkley told TPM, saying he had hoped the bipartisan rules change would ease gridlock. "Many of my colleagues are absolutely beside themselves with frustration, and that frustration is rapidly turning to fury."

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No decision is final yet, but there are growing signs that this year's House Republican Medicare voucher plan won't be adjusted to affect Americans older than age 55.

Under pressure to produce a balanced budget within 10 years, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was considering revamping his Medicare privatization plan to hit Americans even closer to retirement. That would have have violated Ryan's previous pledge, oft-repeated during his vice presidential run last year, that his controversial plan would preserve Medicare's promise of guaranteed insurance coverage to everyone over 55.

Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (PA) told TPM on Wednesday that the proposal has been under consideration, but according to his discussions with Ryan, he believes the Wisconsinite's budget plan will align federal spending and revenues in 10 years without implementing any Medicare changes for those above 55.

"I've had discussions with Paul Ryan and others and it appears -- it's likely that the Medicare age will not change," Dent said in an interview. "So in other words we would like to remain at 55. Now I can't speak for the Budget Committee or Chairman Ryan but I believe that's where this is heading."

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President Obama is circumventing Republican leaders and reaching out directly to rank-and-file Senate GOP lawmakers in an early effort to build momentum for a grand bargain to avert sequestration and reduce the long-term deficit.

"He wants to do the big deal," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Graham told reporters Tuesday afternoon that Obama had just called him and the two spoke for 10 minutes about fiscal issues. He said the conversation was "incredibly encouraging."

"I'm very encouraged by what I see from the president in terms of what I see in terms of substance and tone," Graham said. "He's calling people -- this is how you solve our problems. He's working the phones, talking about ... how can we get more people in the mix."

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Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) is signaling that Democrats may revisit filibuster reform in the wake of high-profile Republican filibusters including the Chuck Hagel nomination, the plan to avert sequestration and the judicial nomination of Caitlin Halligan.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Durbin said the existing rules change agreement doesn't seem to be working.

"I hate to suggest this, but if this is an indication of where we're headed, we need to revisit the rules again," he said. "We need to go back to them again. I'm sorry to say it because I was hopeful that a bipartisan approach to dealing with these issues would work. It is the best thing for this chamber, for the people serving here and for the history of this institution. But if this Caitlin Halligan [filibuster] is an indication of things to come, we've got to revisit the rules. If we are now going to filibuster based on such weak arguments, then I think we need to revisit the rules."

A number of Republican senators Tuesday either didn't know or wouldn't say if they consider the Voting Rights Act to be constitutional, even though many of them voted to reauthorize it in 2006 and the Supreme Court is currently considering whether to invalidate a key section of it.

As they entered and exited weekly party luncheons Tuesday afternoon, I and other reporters asked many GOP senators if they consider a centerpiece of the law, which was battered by conservative justices during Supreme Court oral arguments last week, should be upheld. Every one of them dodged the questions, some more artfully than others.

"Uh," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), before a long, awkward pause, "I haven't even thought about it." He laughed and said, "I'll leave that to the courts. I'm having a hard enough time being a senator, much less a Supreme Court justice."

I asked the same question to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who, like Graham, voted to renew the law in 2006. "The Voting Rights Act?" he asked. Yes, I said. Should it be upheld? "Oh, I don't know," Inhofe replied. "I'll let someone else answer that."

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President Obama will hold a signing ceremony Thursday for the Violence Against Women Act, which recently passed Congress. He and Vice President Joe Biden, the original author of VAWA in 1994, will make remarks.

They'll be joined, according to the White House, "by women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress."

The White House issued a formal statement Tuesday afternoon saying it's "deeply concerned" about the impact of the House GOP's continuing resolution to fund the government through the end of September.

Voicing its displeasure, but offering no signal that President Obama might veto the bill, the Office of Management and Budget did say it's "pleased" that the legislation includes previously agreed upon budget elements.

While the Administration is pleased to see that H.R. 933 is consistent with the mutually agreed upon budget framework in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), the bill raises concerns about the Government's ability to protect consumers, avoid deep cuts in critical services that families depend on, and implement critical domestic priorities such as access to quality and affordable health care.  Furthermore, while the legislation includes the Department of Defense and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies fiscal year 2013 bills, the remainder of Federal agencies are left to operate at last year's level, which will impede their ability to provide services to Americans and efficiently allocate funding to key programs including those in infrastructure, clean energy, education, and research and development. [...]

The President continues to work to replace sequestration with a larger, balanced deficit reduction agreement that strengthens the middle class by accelerating job creation and growth while coupling serious entitlement reform that strengthens these critical programs with tax reform that raises revenue by closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday took a swipe at Jeb Bush after he came out against a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in his new book.

"Let's wait for a few months to see how Jeb Bush changes his mind again," Reid told reporters. He said Bush is "not evolving, he's devolving" on immigration. "He keeps going backwards."

The Democratic leader said the former Florida governor has made "a fool of himself."

"Frankly, on this issue, I don't think Jeb Bush is the Florida leader," Reid said. "I think Marco Rubio is."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) responded Tuesday to Jeb Bush's newfound doubts in his recent book about creating a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

"I respect his views and we will continue to move forward with the proposal that we have," McCain said in response to a question from TPM.

"I noticed today that Jeb Bush said we didn't want it to be a magnet for people who come here illegally, and that's why we are talking so seriously about employer sanctions," he told reporters. "So if people who want to come to this country illegally know that they can't get a job then that takes care of the magnet side."

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