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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

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."

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is facing speculation that he may update his Medicare privatization plan to include changes for Americans older than 55 -- people his prior budgets exempted from his reforms -- in order to fulfill GOP leadership's promise to align revenues and spending within 10 years.

TPM put the question to Ryan's office. His spokesman declined to address the speculation, but appeared to leave open the possibility that the cutoff may change from 55, vowing that those "in or near retirement" won't see any changes under the updated plan.

"With respect to Medicare, Chairman Ryan will again put forward a real solution to protect and strengthen Medicare for current seniors and future generation," a Ryan spokesman told TPM. "His reforms ensure no changes for those in or near retirement, a sharp contrast to the real harm inflicted on seniors by the President's health-care law."

The question is what age constitutes "near" retirement -- and whether it might this time be higher than 55.

Ryan, who is mum on the details of his upcoming budget, is facing cross-pressures -- from conservatives who want him to apply his Medicare changes to Americans older than 55 on the one hand, and seniors, whom he's vowed to insulate from Medicare privatization on the other. The proposal, versions of which the House has passed twice, would replace seniors' Medicare guarantee with a limited subsidy to buy private insurance.

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House Republican centrists expressed concern during a conference meeting Tuesday when Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) informed them that the party's new Medicare privatization plan may apply to Americans older than 55, according to The Hill.

"Paul Ryan was pretty clear that that could happen. You could have to take it up to a higher number like 56, 57, 59 ... it could be higher than 55, but he also said, ‘We don’t have any numbers yet,'" an unnamed Republican lawmaker in the meeting told the paper.

"A lot of people had made commitments at 55. In other words, in the campaign [Republican vulnerable members] said it wouldn’t affect your Medicare for retirees or near retirees for those 55 and up ... and [if] this budget forces them to renege on that, that would be problematic for many."

Ryan's office told TPM that the plan won't affect those "in or near retirement" -- but left the door open to raising the age from 55. No decisions are final yet, aides say.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told MSNBC on Monday that she voted against final passage of the Violence Against Women Act late last week in part because of its expanded protections -- for gays, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants.

She voted for a more modest House GOP VAWA, but after that failed, she voted against the final Senate version. Along with gripes about the allocation of money and the specifics of trafficking provisions, she had other concerns.

"I didn't like the way it was expanded to include other different groups," Blackburn said of the Senate VAWA. "What you need is something that is focused specifically to help the shelters and to help out law enforcement who is trying to work with the crimes that have been committed against women and helping them to stand up."

In the culmination of a dramatic turnaround on the question of gay marriage that reflects the larger sea change among the American public -- as well as President Obama's much-cited personal "evolution" -- the Obama administration is now taking the maximal legal position that gay and straight couples have an equal constitutional right to marry.

In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court, Obama's Justice Department argued that California's Proposition 8 -- which outlaws same sex marriage in the state -- should be struck down because it violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. The brief comes one month before the court is set to hear arguments on two major gay marriage cases. One involves the Defense of Marriage Act, which the federal government will take the lead in pushing to overturn, and the second involves Prop 8, where the federal government is not a party to the case but where it has now made its position clear.

"Proposition 8's withholding of the designation of marriage is not based on an interest in promoting responsible procreation and child-rearing -- petitioners' central claimed justification for the initiative -- but instead on impermissible prejudice," the administration's brief reads. "Prejudice may not, however, be the basis for differential treatment under the law."

Evan Wolfson, who leads the pro-marriage-equality group Freedom To Marry, told TPM that the brief makes as expansive a legal case as plausible for putting gay and straight couples on equal footing. "The arguments laid out powerfully and clearly refute all the purported justifications for withholding the freedom to marry for gay couples," Wolfson said.

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When House Republican leaders unveiled their more modest version of the Violence Against Women Act last Friday, the plan was to pass their bill and go to conference with the Senate, which had passed a more expansive reauthorization. But they soon found themselves cornered, and decided to back down entirely.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), along with Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Tom Cole (R-OK), worked with advocates to forge a compromise between the warring factions. When that failed, Cantor sought to persuade conservatives of the need to let the Democrats' version pass.

"Leadership was quite purposeful," Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) told TPM. "They did not want this issue to hang longer than this week."

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Appearing on "The Daily Show" Thursday night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow called Justice Antonin Scalia a "troll" for describing part of the Voting Rights Act as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement" during Supreme Court oral arguments this week.

"It's weird to see Antonin Scalia in person," Maddow told Jon Stewart. "He's a troll. He's saying this for effect. He knows it's offensive, and he knows he's going to get a gasp from the courtroom which he got. And he loves it. He's like the guy in your blog comment thread who's using the n-word. ... He's that kind of guy."

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During a White House meeting Friday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pushed President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to devise a sequester replacement plan with spending cuts, according to a readout from the speaker's office.

At the White House this morning, Speaker Boehner continued to press the president and Leader Reid to produce a plan to replace the sequester that can actually pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. He suggested the most productive way to resolve the sequester issue will be through regular order. The speaker reminded the president that Congress just last month provided him the tax hike he was seeking without any spending cuts. It’s time to focus on spending, the speaker told the group. The Republican leaders reiterated their willingness to close tax loopholes, but not as a replacement for the sequester’s spending cuts, saying any revenue generated by closing tax loopholes should be used to lower tax rates and create jobs. Finally, the speaker reaffirmed his intention to move legislation through the House next week to fund and keep the government running regardless of how and when the sequester is resolved. The president and leaders agreed legislation should be enacted this month to prevent a government shutdown while we continue to work on a solution to replace the president’s sequester. 

 

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