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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

Senate Democrats who support reforming the filibuster when the new Congress convenes next month insist their ideas are fairly modest. Their farthest-reaching proposal, they say, would be to end the era of silent obstruction, and force filibustering senators to hold the floor and register their objections publicly, and at indeterminate length. The 60-vote supermajority typically required to end the filibuster, they insist, would still stand.

But would it really?

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The possibility that Democratic and Republican leaders will agree to slowly increase the Medicare eligibility age to 67 is creating strange bedfellows: liberals -- both in and out of Congress -- and the health insurance industry.

A well-placed industry source tells TPM insurers haven't taken a public position but are skeptical of the idea, particularly those insurers that don't cover elderly patients via Medicare Advantage, supplemental Medigap coverage or prescription drug coverage.

House Republican leaders want to avoid the fiscal cliff with a proposal that would gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67. Democrats are reluctant to cut benefits, but President Obama was willing to accept the policy last year in failed negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, and top Democrats have left the door open to including that measure in a large deficit reduction deal.

It may seem counter-intuitive: why would an industry threatened by government insurance not want it to shrink?

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Wednesday accused President Obama of "shifting the goal posts" in fiscal cliff negotiations and repeated his call for the president to put forth a plan that can pass both chambers of Congress.

“The president’s own words confirm that the responsible proposal put forward by Republicans can be implemented in a manner that meets the president’s own standards," Boehner said in a statement. "If our offer is not acceptable to the president, then he has an obligation to show leadership by presenting a credible plan of his own that can pass both houses of Congress. The president talks about a balanced approach, but he’s rejected spending cuts that he has supported previously and refuses to identify serious spending cuts he is willing to make today. This is preventing us from reaching an agreement. With the American economy on the brink of the fiscal cliff, we don’t have time for the president to continue shifting the goal posts. We need to solve this problem."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) vowed Wednesday not to vote to raise the debt ceiling without "real structural reforms" to Medicare and Social Security.

His statement comes in response to President Obama saying he won't engage Republican demands to increase the nation's borrowing limit like he did in 2011.

Graham said:

“Mr. President, I will not support increasing the debt limit until we address why we’re in debt.

“I will never vote to raise the debt ceiling unless we produce real structural reforms to save Medicare and Social Security from bankruptcy and prevent our country from becoming Greece.  It is now time for you to demonstrate leadership and embrace big ideas in a bipartisan way.

"America is on an unsustainable path and to continue borrowing money without addressing our entitlement problems is irresponsible."

Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), the top budget player in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, praised top Republicans who are signaling interest in temporarily backing down on tax cuts for the wealthy and extending middle income rates.

"I'm incredibly relieved to see rationality spreading throughout the Republican Party," Honda said in a statement to TPM.

"I never thought I’d be the one to say this, but Senator Coburn, Tom Cole, and many of their like-minded colleagues are finally making some sense," he said. "Let’s do the things we all agree on, and extend tax relief for 98% of Americans. Let’s not waste another single day. No one is questioning Senator Coburn conservative bona fides, and we need more Members like him to speak up for sanity."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) says he would rather see tax rates go up than raise revenue via loopholes now because that would leave more room for tax reform in the future.

"I know we have to raise revenue," he said Wednesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "I don't really care which way we do it. I would rather see the rates go up than do it the other way because it gives us greater chance to reform the tax code and broaden the base in the future."

Coburn has been vocal about the need to raise tax revenues, but endorsing a rate hike rather than increased revenues by closing tax deductions is an extraordinarily rare position for a Republican to take.

Though he deems it necessary to bridge the budget deficit, Coburn made clear he doesn't think raising tax revenues will help the economy.

"But to me, I think they're arguing over semantics," he said. "$800 billion is $800 billion. It's still going to be a negative drag on the economy."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) fierce resistance to reforming the filibuster isn't fazing Harry Reid, who insists that he will weaken the minority party's power to obstruct legislative business with Republican support or without it.

"There are discussions going on now, but I want to tell everybody here: I'm happy, I've had a number of Republicans come to me and a few Democrats," the Democratic majority leader told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "We're going to change the rules. We cannot continue in this way. So I hope we can get something Republicans will work with us on.

"But it won't be a handshake," Reid added. "We tried that last time; it didn't work."

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The Senate Tuesday fell short of the two-thirds vote required to ratify a United Nations treaty aimed at securing rights for disabled people around the world, when the vast majority of Republican senators voted against the treaty. The final vote was 61-38 vote. All the nay votes were Republican.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities essentially makes the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act a non-binding international standard. It requires no change to U.S. law.

Originally signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2006 and re-signed by President Barack Obama in 2009 shortly after he took office, the treaty has been championed by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS), the one-time GOP presidential nominee who suffered a disability while serving in the Army in World War II. Dole was on the Senate floor Tuesday ahead of the ratification vote, in a wheelchair, accompanied by his wife, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC).

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House Democrats filed their discharge petition today seeking to force a vote on legislation that would extend middle income tax cuts and let the top marginal rates return to Clinton-era levels.

Filed by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), the petition requires 218 signatories to succeed -- in other words, a significant number of Republicans.

"Our economy and our families cannot wait any longer for action and cannot afford a Republican tax increase on the middle class," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). "There’s no time to waste. The Senate has already passed this legislation; House Democrats are prepared to support it; President Obama is ready to sign it into law."

At his weekly briefing, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called on all Democrats and sympathetic Republicans like Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) to sign the petition.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) joined the White House and top Democrats in rejecting the GOP's counter-offer on a fiscal cliff deal, lamenting that it harms the middle class and does not raise tax rates on high incomes.

He also indicated that an agreemtn must address the debt limit, which will need to be raised again early next year. "Republicans have made an offer," he said, "but now it is time for them to get serious about forging a balanced approach."

Reid's full statement late Monday:

“To protect millionaires, Speaker Boehner’s offer would force middle class families to pay higher taxes. Raising taxes on the middle class is bad policy and flunks the test of balance. To protect the middle class while reducing the deficit, simple math dictates that tax rates must rise on the top two percent of taxpayers next year. The sooner Republicans grasp that reality, the sooner we can avoid the fiscal cliff.

 “Democrats are willing to compromise, but any agreement must protect the middle class. We have also been clear that we have no intention of kicking the can down the road. Not only does Speaker Boehner’s proposal delay revenues into 2013, it sets up another destructive fight over the debt ceiling first thing next year. 

“Republicans have made an offer, but now it is time for them to get serious about forging a balanced approach.”

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