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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

One running theme of deficit reduction negotiations is that both parties support domestic spending cuts in their opening bids -- Republicans demand them, and Democrats champion them alongside tax increases for high income earners.

Now a coalition of three labor unions -- AFSCME, SEIU and National Education Association -- are launching a six-figure ad buy pressuring swing-state Senate Democrats and targeted House Republicans to oppose spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and education -- three items that neither side has taken off the table in talks about defusing a looming austerity bomb.

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The Department of Health and Human Services released draft rules Tuesday regarding the implementation of a critical piece of the Affordable Care Act -- the ban on insurer practice of denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

In an advisory, HHS described the rule, which is not yet final:

A proposed rule that, beginning in 2014, prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals because of a pre-existing or chronic condition.  Under the rule, insurance companies would be allowed to vary premiums within limits, only based on age, tobacco use, family size, and geography.  Health insurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage to any American because of a pre-existing condition or from charging higher premiums to certain enrollees because of their current or past health problems, gender, occupation, and small employer size or industry. The rule would ensure that people for whom coverage would otherwise be unaffordable, and young adults, have access to a catastrophic coverage plan in the individual market.

HHS also issued draft regulations on the types of "essential health benefits" that insurance plans must include, alongside other insurance market reforms.

"The Affordable Care Act is building a health insurance market that works for consumers," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Thanks to the health care law, no one will be discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition."

Late last week more than a dozen Republican governors declared that they will not build the insurance market exchanges called for by the Affordable Care Act, including prominent names like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, John Kasich of Ohio, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Perry of Texas.

On Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma joined them, declaring in a statement that it "does not benefit Oklahoma taxpayers to actively support and fund a new government program that will ultimately be under the control of the federal government."

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Utah's Republican Gov. Gary Herbert says he's considering whether to build a state-based health insurance exchange under Obamacare or turn it over the the federal government, but wants answers before he makes a final decision.

According to the Deseret News, he wrote in a Monday letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, "Without answers, it will be impossible to determine the best outcome for Utah’s taxpayers, families and small businesses."

The paper reports:

In his letter, the governor lists 10 main questions along with about 20 follow-up questions.

Questions include: "How much will it cost the state to participate in a federal exchange, including the government, taxpayers, and the private sector?" and "What is the process to ensure that a Federal Exchange accurately incorporates all state-specific procedures and laws?"

Having run and lost on their central anti-tax stance, and with an austerity bomb nearing detonation, Republicans are softening their tone on the issue. But what may appear to be a meaningful shift on taxes among GOP leaders is belied by the unchanged policy specifics within the rhetoric.

"For the purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem, we're willing to accept new revenue under the right conditions," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in a post-election press conference.

That leaves the impression that Republicans are willing to raise revenue by limiting deductions and loopholes. Correct, but they've always been open to that -- if and only if the new revenue is used to lower tax rates rather than reduce the deficit. Look closer and it's apparent that that stance is still the same.

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If Mitt Romney has any friends left in the Republican Party, they're in hiding.

On the Sunday talk shows, senior Republicans, former Romney surrogates and prominent conservatives piled on their defeated presidential nominee for telling donors that he lost because President Obama bought off minorities and young voters with "gifts."

"It's nuts," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on ABC's "This Week." "I mean, first of all, it's insulting. ... The job of a political leader in part is to understand the people. If we can't offer a better future that is believable to more people, we're not going to win."

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An Israeli attack on Gaza killed at least 11 people Sunday, including several children, the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, the Israel military says the air strike was aimed at a Palestinian militant believed to be involved in the rocket attacks against Israel.

It's the fifth consecutive day of attacks in the war-torn region.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) categorically rejected a fiscal deal that does not raise tax rates on upper incomes, arguing that "just to close loopholes is far too little money."

Asked Sunday on ABC's "This Week" if she'd accept a deal that would hold tax rates constant but cap deductions for high earners, she said, "No."

"The president made it very clear that there are not enough [deductions] of the sort," she said, calling that approach "a blueprint for hampering our future" because it would require deeper cuts in investments.

On potential reforms to safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security, something Republicans are calling for, she said, "If that means harming beneficiaries, I don't think that's such a good idea."

"We also don't need to be saying stupid things," he said. "Look, we had candidates in Indiana and Missouri that said offensive things that not only hurt themselves and lost us two Senate seats but also hurt the Republican Party across the board."

On abortion, while Jindal said he's pro-life, "we don't need to demonize those that disagree with us. We need to respect the fact that others have come to different conclusions based on their own sincerely held beliefs."

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