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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 House Budget Committee late Wednesday night narrowly passed the new Rep. Paul Ryan budget blueprint 19-18, after defeating a number of Democratic amendments aimed at scaling it back.

Democrats voted no and Republican Reps. Justin Amash (MI) and Tim Huelskamp (KS) joined them because they thought the plan didn't reduce the deficit quickly enough.

It could hit the floor as soon as next week.

Republicans have lost some, if not all, of the bipartisan cover they once had for their effort to repeal a key piece of President Obama's health care law. Could they have done so on purpose?

One health policy insider thinks that's possible -- and sees a political upside to putting all Democrats on the wrong side of powerful interest groups.

"It's an election year," the industry lobbyist and former GOP aide told TPM in an email. "One doesn't need legislative victories ... just tough votes for the other team!"

At issue is the House's Thursday vote to repeal a powerful Medicare cost-cutting panel created by the Affordable Care Act. Many Democrats also dislike the so-called Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), and were set to join the GOP repeal effort. But that was before the GOP proposed paying for the cost of repealing it with a medical malpractice reform bill.

That will cost Republicans the support of dozens of Democrats who were otherwise on board to eliminate IPAB, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters. Repeal is also nonstarter in the Senate and faces a veto threat from the White House.

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White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that Republicans who support the Paul Ryan budget's cuts to education and clean energy have a "severely diminished capacity" and are "aggressively and deliberately ignorant" of the global economy.

The fiery, personal remarks -- unusual for a White House known for being cautious with its rhetoric -- may be a sign of the heated clash ahead in this election year as Democrats and Republicans compete over their visions for the country.

The full exchange between Carney and a reporter aboard Air Force One, according to a White House pool report:

 Q    -- the Republican budget, I think administration folks have said would make -- cut pretty deeply into investments in clean energy.

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, that is an excellent point and I'm glad you raised it. 

     Q    Senior administration officials have raised it.

     MR. CARNEY:  Among the many serious problems with the Ryan budget, Republican budget proposal, is its dramatic cuts in some of the absolutely essential programs that we need to sustain and the investments that we need to make to secure America's economic future.  Education, Pell grants is one; investments in clean energy is another. 

I mean, again, it is -- you have to be aggressively and deliberately ignorant of the world economy not to know and understand that clean energy technologies are going to play a huge role in the 21st century.  You have to have severely diminished capacity to understand what drives economic growth in industrialized countries in this century if you do not understand that education is the key that unlocks the door to prosperity.  The budget proposed by Chairman Ryan and supported overwhelmingly already by Republicans suggests that those problems exist in the minds of the supporters of that plan.

That was a bad sentence, but you get my point.  I lost track because I was watching RG3 over there, future quarterback of my Washington Redskins.

Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget unveiled Tuesday indicates a new, albeit somewhat minor, area of agreement with President Obama on Medicare: How much money it should spend per beneficiary. But they completely disagree on what to cut in order to get there.

Ryan's budget -- which replaces Medicare with subsidized insurance exchange where seniors can buy into a private plan or a public option -- limits the value of the subsidies to per-capita GDP+0.5 percent. In other words, it makes cuts on the beneficiary side.

President Obama's plan, as enacted under the Affordable Care Act, is to let 15 Senate-confirmed experts find the best way to hold down Medicare costs to the same level -- but only by cutting reimbursements to providers, without touching benefits. Its existing mandate is GDP+1 percent, but Obama last year supported reducing that to GDP+0.5 percent.

The contrast in broader visions remains stark as ever, however, with Obama and his party wanting to keep Medicare alive as an insurance plan with a coverage guarantee, and Ryan and the GOP pushing to replace that with a "premium support" or voucher system.

The House of Repesentatives is set to vote on a measure Thursday to repeal the Medicare cost-cutting Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) enacted by the Affordable Care Act. The $3.1 billion cost will be offset by medical malpractice reform legislation the GOP has been sitting on.

The bill is likely dead on arrival in the Senate, and the White House issued a veto threat Tuesday.

The vote underlies battles over the future of Medicare as well as a right-wing split over whether federal caps on medical liability are constitutional. The pay-for is expected to cost the votes of Dems who want to repeal the board.

(Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said the vote is today. It's tomorrow.)

When the Supreme Court hears arguments on the Affordable Care Act next week, the central question the justices will consider is whether the federal government has the authority to require Americans to buy health insurance.

The Obama administration will argue that it's an acceptable use of federal power to regulate interstate economic activities, backed by decades of judicial precedent. The 26 Republican-led states and other stakeholders challenging the law will decry it as an abuse of federal power that exceeds the limits of the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

Experts on both sides of the ideological divide say the ruling will come down to whether the justices rule with an eye toward precedent. If they do, they'll uphold the law. An ideology-driven move to strike down the mandate, a central component of the law, would mark a rare, swift departure from precedent.

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House Republicans aren't all sold on Rep. Paul Ryan's new budget.

Seven conservative House Republicans hosted a panel late Tuesday afternoon at the Heritage Foundation, none of whom committed to voting for the blueprint unveiled earlier in the day. One of them -- a member of the House Budget Committee -- said he's unequivocally opposed.

"I will be voting no," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). "It's not good enough."

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House Republicans aren't just reigniting battles over domestic spending and Medicare in their new budget resolution. They're also instigating a war over military funding by seeking to replace automatic defense cuts both parties agreed to in the bipartisan debt limit deal to with major cuts to programs that benefit low- and middle-income Americans, such as food stamps and health care.

Democrats on the Hill and at the White House consider this a violation of the agreement they struck with Republicans last summer. The debt-limit legislation included a mechanism to force both parties to strike a balanced deal to reduce federal budget deficits: deep, automatic, across-the-board cuts to both domestic and national security programs. When the Super Committee failed in November, thanks largely to the GOP's refusal to back significant new tax revenues, it armed that bomb -- those cuts are now scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

Instead of reconsidering their anti-tax absolutism, Republicans want to go back on their end of the deal.

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House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer on Tuesday rebuked House Republicans from essentially walking away from the debt limit deal by cutting beneat the agreed-upon spending levels in the accord last August.

"We understand it abandons the agreement that was reached among Republicans and Democrats in order to pass the Budget Control Act that was essential to keep our country from defaulting," Hoyer told reporters at his weekly press conference. "There is no doubt that everybody at the table thought there was a deal, an understanding, an agreement."

"Senator Reid's right," he added. "It's going to be hard to negotiate with people and try to come to an agreement in a democratic process if the other side simply says, well, yeah we agreed on that some months ago but we're abandoning it now."

Hoyer flatly rejected the notion expressed by Speaker John Boehner that the agreement was simply an upper limit on spending as opposed to an agreed-upon figure for federal outlays.

"What kind of deal is that?" he said. "That's like saying we'll sit down on a contract and say, okay, I'll pay $100 for whatever service or good you're going to give me. And then I come back and say, no I'm only going to pay you $92 because that was just a top limit of what I was going to pay you. Who believes that? Nobody."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer laid down the Democrats' marker Tuesday by declaring that the new Paul Ryan Medicare plan is basically the same as his old one that ignited a firestorm of controversy.

"We think it's more of the same, essentially," Hoyer told reporters at his weekly press conference. "While he's tweaked the Medicare [plan], it will in fact do what his last budget did, and that is force people off Medicare, as it will increase the price of Medicare. We believe also that the guarantee, which allegedly is a change is, as a practical matter, is not a change."

The new plan replaces Medicare with a subsidized insurance exchange, as the old one does, but it includes traditional Medicare as an option among private plans that seniors can buy into. The value of the vouchers is slightly higher than his earlier plan.

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