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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

Tensions are rising between the GOP and its conservative base as top Republican lawmakers gradually pivot in favor of some 'Obamacare' provisions.

In the latest instance, Senate Republican Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt sparred on Twitter Thursday with Michelle Malkin after the conservative blogger wrote a post mercilessly going after him and other GOP lawmakers who have sympathized with parts of the health care law.

"These big-government Republicans show appalling indifference to the dire market disruptions and culture of dependency that Obamacare schemes have wrought," Malkin wrote. "Who needs enemies when you've got Republican Surrenderists for Obamacare waiting in the wings?"

As a Supreme Court decision looms this month, Republicans are slowly realizing that they'll be held responsible for a highly dysfunctional health care system if chunks of the law are overturned. And in recent weeks they've been creating wiggle room to support some of popular pieces of 'Obamacare' -- including the coverage guarantee for pre-existing conditions, letting young adults remain on a parent's policy until 26 and closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap -- in a potential replacement plan. Election-year concerns add to the pressure they feel.

The hedging has come from leaders like House GOP Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) to tea party darlings like Rep. Allen West (R-FL).

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), the chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, last week called the under-26 provision "good policy" and said his party needs to have a plan to take care of sick people if 'Obamacare' is axed. "We have to make sure that we have a program -- and we will, I can assure you we will -- to take care of these folks," he said, according to Bloomberg.

Prominent conservative groups like FreedomWorks and the Club For Growth aren't happy and are warning Republicans not to go down that road.

The right flank of the congressional GOP isn't hiding its misgivings either.

"Some would argue that maintaining mandates that have encouraged millions of young Americans to drop their existing coverage to obtain 'free' insurance through their parents is inconsistent with this objective [of improving the economy]," wrote arch-conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) on his website, arguing that "conservatives should be concerned about government mandates on the private sector."

Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee published a post on their web site warning that the under-26 provision will impose "costs and perverse incentives, both to the health system and the economy as a whole."

GOP leaders are seeking to ease the fallout by emphasizing their commitment to full repeal before they bring up a replacement plan. But the upshot of the pivot is renewed concern within the conservative base as to whether Mitt Romney -- whose signature accomplishment as Massachusetts governor was enacting a state-based version of 'Obamacare' -- will stand by his promise to repeal the federal law if elected president.

"Where does presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney stand?" Malkin wrote. "Despite repeated assurances that he will abandon Obamacare in its entirety, Romney is surrounded by GOP socialized medicine helpmates."

Adding another wrinkle into the mix Thursday was right-wing hero and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who left the door open to an individual mandate at the state level. At the libertarian Reason magazine, Peter Suderman explained what it all means.

"Walker's comments [are] yet another reminder that the basic shape of ObamaCare -- controls on the insurance market, mandatory purchase of insurance, and subsidies for private insurance delivered through government-run exchanges -- was developed by Republicans and passed as RomneyCare by the party's presidential nominee. And they show that GOP officials, a number of whom have spent the last month or so trying to reassure people that of course they don't want to throw out the good parts of ObamaCare, hasn't moved beyond those ideas except to oppose President Obama's federal version of them."

In an ominous sign for tensions between conservatives and the GOP over 'Obamacare,' a Senate Republican leadership member sparred with a popular right-wing blogger on Twitter Thursday over whether to reinstate pieces of the health care reform law in a potential replacement plan.

It began with a blog post by Michelle Malkin fiercely criticizing the Republican members who have indicated willingness to include some popular pieces of the Affordable Care Act in a potential replacement plan if the Supreme Court scraps some or all of the law (they all insist on full repeal first).

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The nation's top military officer warned Wednesday that automatic defense cuts agreed to in last year's bipartisan debt limit deal could lead to more war.

At a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon has gone along with recent targeted cuts to limited targeted cuts, but argued that the the sweeping across-the-board cuts in the so-called sequestration would weaken the country's ability to deter adversaries and therefore lead to more war.

"Sequestration is absolutely certain to upend this balance. It would lead to further end-strength reductions, the potential cancellation of major weapons systems and the disruption of global operations," Dempsey said. "We can't yet say precisely how bad the damage would be, but it is clear that sequestration would risk hollowing out our force and reducing its military options available to the nation. We would go from being unquestionably powerful everywhere to being less visible globally and presenting less of an overmatch to our adversaries, and that would translate into a different deterrent calculus, and potentially, therefore, increase the likelihood of conflict."

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During a Thursday breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) left the door open to a state-based individual mandate to buy health insurance.

He told reporters he supports the concept of "guaranteed issue" if 'Obamacare' is overturned -- i.e. the guarentee of being able to buy insurance coverage even if one has a pre-existing condition.

The exchange that followed.

REPORTER: Do you think you can have guaranteed issue without a mandate?

WALKER: Well, certainly not a federal mandate. I mean I think those are discussions, debates people can have at the state level.

The Senate on Wednesday defeated a Republican-offered measure to drastically cut food stamps.

The amendment to the farm bill, offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), was shot down 65-33 in the Democratic-led chamber. It would have slashed $322 billion by placing a cap on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program spending and handing control to states.

The vote is a reminder of the fiercely ideological nature of today's Republican Party, particularly when considering the economic bang for the buck food stamps are known to have. The Congressional Budget Office and other nonpartisan studies have found that food stamps provide exceptionally strong stimulative and job-creation value in an under-performing economy.

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The younger generation is abandoning God in droves.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that belief in the existence of God has dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.

Pew, which has been studying the trend for 25 years, finds that just 68 percent of millennials in 2012 agree with the statement "I never doubt the existence of God." That's down from 76 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007.

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A bipartisan Senate duo wrote a letter Tuesday calling on House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to hold a vote on the upper chamber's version of the Violence Against Women Act re-authorization. Boehner's office promptly declined the request but said the House stands ready to go to conference to resolve the differences between the chambers' bills.

The upshot: The measure remains in limbo, and Democrats will have a harder time including the expanded provisions aimed at protecting gay victims, illegal immigrants and Native Americans in the final version.

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In a surprising move, three of the nation's largest health insurance companies said Monday that they will voluntarily offer several popular benefits in 'Obamacare' even if the law is struck down by the Supreme Court later this month.

UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Aetna say they will continue to let young adults remain on a parent's plan until age 26 and to provide preventive health services without co-pays, whatever the verdict is on the law. UnitedHealthcare and Humana, but not Aetna, also vowed to eliminate lifetime dollar limits on insurance policies and to stop canceling policies unless the policyholder engaged in fraud.

What no insurer agreed to do: guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions.

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Ahead of the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts, an influential activist known for enforcing GOP anti-tax absolutism is reinterpreting his famous pledge, making it harder for Republicans to compromise in a way that ultimately raises federal revenues.

All but a handful of congressional Republicans have signed -- and strictly adhered to -- Grover Norquist's pledge to "oppose any and all efforts" to raise taxes or revenues. But the White House's insistence that President Obama will veto attempts to extend all of the Bush tax cuts creates a new incentive for Republicans to cut a deal with Democrats after the election. For that reason, Norquist is insisting on an interpretation of his pledge in which failing to prevent a tax increase -- or even voting to partially cut a lapsed rate -- would constitute a violation.

"I think the American people would look at anything that raised taxes from where they are today to be a tax increase," Norquist told TPM Monday. "Everybody knows this has been coming."

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Jeb Bush's remark that Ronald Reagan would be too moderate for today's Republican Party earned an aggressive rebuke from the gatekeeper of the anti-tax orthodoxy that permeates the modern GOP.

"That's foolish," Grover Norquist, the architect of the bedrock never-raise-taxes pledge that nearly every Republican has signed, told TPM in an interview. "It's stup--it's bizarre."

"There's a guy who watched his father throw away his presidency on a 2:1 [ratio of spending cuts to tax increases] promise," Norquist said of Bush. "And he thinks he's sophisticated by saying that he'd take a 10:1 promise. He doesn't understand -- he's just agreed to walk down the same alley his dad did with the same gang. And he thinks he's smart. You walk down that alley, you don't come out. You certainly don't come out with 2:1 or 10:1."

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