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

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) quelled what was a growing debacle for his party late this week by devising a plan to issue some immediate relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

On Friday morning, the House approved $9.7 billion in new borrowing authority for Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay out flood insurance claims. FEMA says it would otherwise run out of money next week.

The vote was 354-67. All the nays were Republicans, and among them was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

The vote helped Boehner calm the fury of prominent lawmakers from New York and New Jersey after he failed to hold a vote on the relief funding earlier this before the end of the old Congress.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters Friday that he supports as far a filibuster reform proposal as can pass. He said Democrats should act with 51 votes if bipartisan negotiations do not produce a two-thirds majority to change the rules.

"Well, the bottom line is we have to do something," he said during a press briefing at the Capitol, when asked which filibuster reform plan he supports -- Merkley-Udall or McCain-Levin. "The Senate's broken."

"If we cannot come to a bipartisan agreement we have to get 51 votes for some kind of change in a proposal, and that's easier said than done," said Schumer, a Democratic leadership member. "So I think there's a consensus on the Democratic side that we have to do something. And I would like to go as far as we can with something that passes."

The Violence Against Women Act first became law in 1994 and has since been routinely reauthorized without controversy. By providing resources for law enforcement to combat spousal abuse, it has protected countless women from domestic violence.

But the 2012 re-authorization, like many initiatives of the just-concluded Congress, fell prey to House Republican resistance -- in this case, to expanding the Act to cover more women. In the end, House GOP leaders refused bring to a vote a bill that passed the Senate with a bipartisan supermajority.

"The House Republican leadership's failure to take up and pass the Senate's bipartisan and inclusive VAWA bill is inexcusable," Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a Democratic leadership member, told TPM. "This is a bill that passed with 68 votes in the Senate and that extends the bill's protections to 30 million more women. But this seems to be how House Republican leadership operates. No matter how broad the bipartisan support, no matter who gets hurt in the process, the politics of the right wing of their party always comes first."

A Republican source familiar with failed last-minute negotiations to save the measure between Vice President Joe Biden and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) disputed that view. The source blamed Senate Democrats for making a resolution impossible by "constantly shifting the goalposts" and adopting a "my way or the highway approach."

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Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) held a briefing with reporters Thursday to make the case for adopting their "talking filibuster" proposal with 51 votes via the constitutional option.

Merkley said the McCain-Levin scaled-back bipartisan proposal "does nothing to take on the secret, silent filibuster that is haunting this body" and "gives substantial power to the minority with guaranteed amendments."

Udall said the Merkley-Udall plan has "good momentum" and said he believes it has the necessary 51 votes to pass under what Republicans call the "nuclear option." Changing the rules ordinarily requires 67 votes.

Merkley said his proposal is not about "silencing the voice of the majority."

It was the second press briefing held by the two senators since the McCain-Levin plan was unveiled last week, scrambling the cause of filibuster reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has not yet announced which approach he intends to take.

Convening the 113th Congress Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called on Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to be more willing to rely on Democrats to help him pass bills, like he did with the fiscal cliff legislation.

"As Speaker Boehner saw on New Year’s Day, when he allows every member of the House to vote – and not only the Republican members of the House to vote -- Congress can enact bills into laws," he said on the floor. "No major legislation can pass the Senate without the votes of both Democrats and Republicans. During the 113th Congress, the Speaker should strive to make that the rule in the House of Representatives, as well."

In short, Reid appears to be urging Boehner not to worry about the so-called Hastert Rule -- which involves securing a majority of votes within the majority's caucus before letting the chamber vote on bills.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced Thursday that he will use a procedural move to extend the first legislative day of the 113th Congress in order to leave room for filibuster reform via constitutional option, if need be.

He said on the Senate floor:

"The Senate is simply not working as it should…  But I believe this matter warrants additional debate during the 113th Congress. And Senators deserve additional notice before voting to change Senate rules. So today I will follow the precedents set in 2005 and again in 2011.  We will reserve the right of all Senators to propose changes to the Senate rules.  And we will explicitly not acquiesce in the carrying over of all the rules from the last Congress.  It is my intention that the Senate will recess today, rather than adjourn, to continue the same legislative day, and allow this important rules discussion to continue later this month. I am confident the Republican leader and I can come to an agreement that allows the Senate to work more efficiently."

A Democratic aide involved with filibuster reform expects the legislative day to last until roughly Jan. 22.

Filibuster reform is in trouble, proponents warn, at the hands of a scaled-back proposal they say would enhance rather than diminish the Senate minority's power to obstruct.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) says his proposal to force filibustering senators to occupy the floor and speak ceaselessly could be in jeopardy, thanks to a new bipartisan filibuster package that he and his ally Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) argue would do more harm than good to the cause.

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In a new op-ed for Yahoo News, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) defends the fiscal cliff agreement he helped broker as imperfect but necessary to avoid a bigger tax hike.

He also seeks to provoke President Obama into a debate over the upcoming debt limit increase, which the president has promised not to have.

McConnell writes:

Predictably, the President is already claiming that his tax hike on the “rich” isn’t enough. I have news for him: the moment that he and virtually every elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes. That debate is over. Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the government programs that are the real source of the nation’s fiscal imbalance. And the upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfect time to have that discussion.

We simply cannot increase the nation’s borrowing limit without committing to long overdue reforms to spending programs that are the very cause of our debt.

The only way to achieve the balance the President claims to want is by cutting spending. As he himself has admitted, no amount of tax hikes or revenue could possibly keep up with the amount of money Washington is projected to spend in the coming years.

New York Republicans and Democrats are publicly furious with Speaker John Boehner for abruptly cancelling an expected vote late Tuesday night on a relief package for victims of superstorm Sandy.

The Senate recently passed an aid package for Sandy victims worth $60 billion, a price tag that made many House Republicans nervous. So they decided to divide it up into two parts: $27 billion and $33 billion. The first part was vetted by appropriators for wasteful spending but the second wasn't. And most of the latter chunk would not have been spent in the first year, anyway. So one school of thought was to vote separately on both and let the chips fall where they may.

The likely upshot was that the House would immediately authorize $27 billion for victims and give themselves time to determine, in the next Congress, how much of the rest was necessary. A two-track vote was expected after the bill to avert the fiscal cliff. But it never happened. Why was it pulled?

Wednesday morning on the House floor, New York Republican Reps. Peter King and Michael Grimm blamed Boehner for what they described as a betrayal.

"It was entirely the speaker's decision," said a GOP leadership aide, who doesn't work in Boehner's office. "As to why we're not voting on it now? That's a question I can't answer."

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After shelving the legislation Wednesday night, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) intends to prioritize relief for victims of superstorm Sandy in the new Congress, his office said.

"The Speaker will make the supplemental his first priority in the new Congress," a Boehner aide told TPM.

The aide said Boehner has shared his intentions with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations.


Obama Prepares For DHS Shutdown

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama convened a meeting with key administration officials on Friday…