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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

Republicans may be backing off their famously toxic plan by Paul Ryan to privatize Medicare, but they've doubled down on the broader concept and are taking strategic steps to get there over time. Democrats currently have the upper hand in their battle to protect traditional Medicare for the future, but unless they thwart the GOP's drumbeat and build support for their alternate vision, it may not be for long.

There's little disagreement that Medicare is currently on an unsustainable trajectory, with costs spiraling out of control thanks in part to aging baby boomers. Democrats and Republicans both want to rein in Medicare spending, and the two sides increasingly agree that per-beneficiary outlays should be held down to per-capita GDP plus 1 percent, a substantial reduction from projections. But they strongly disagree on how to get there.

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As the economy slowly improves, the GOP's effort to recalibrate its message for the 2012 elections continued Sunday as rising star and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels took to arguing that the recovery is too slow and the economy remains "pathetically weak."

"Let's not kid ourselves: this is the worst recovery ever from a serious recession, and history says the deeper the down, the sharper the up," Daniels said on CNN's State of the Union. "It should have been a very vigorous one. Hasn't been."

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Paul Ryan said he thinks it's too late for other Republicans to enter the presidential race, something a number of conservatives continue to yearn for.

I don't see how that could happen. It's just too late, I think," Ryan said Sunday on NBC's Meet The Press. "I have a hard time seeing how somebody could get in at this late date."

Robert Gibbs, former Obama White House press secretary and currently an outside adviser, pushed back forcefully on Rick Santorum's remarks on President Obama's faith and ideology.

His exchange with ABC's Jake Tapper on Sunday:

TAPPER:  You think he was questioning his faith?

GIBBS:  I can't help but think that those remarks are well over the line.  It's wrong.  It's destructive.  It makes it virtually impossible to solve the problems that we all face together as Americans.  People are not sitting at home this morning, Jake, thinking we more of this in our politics or our public discourse.  It's time to get rid of this.  It's time to have a debate on our political positions, but not question each other's character and faith. 

TAPPER:  Rick Santorum denies that he was dog-whistling about the president's faith, suggesting that the president is anything other than a Christian.  You don't necessarily believe that. 

GIBBS:  Jake, I think that if you make comments like that, you make comments that are well over the line.  I think this GOP primary is -- in many cases, Jake, has been a race to the bottom.  We have seen nastiness, divisiveness, ugliness, distortions of opponents' records, of the president's records.

National Journal reports:

Ron Paul said he doesn't think that Rick Santorum can defeat President Obama in a general election. "I don't see how that's possible," he said on Sunday on CNN's State of the Union.

John McCain fretted Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that the intensely negative and personal tenor of the GOP presidential primaries could harm his party's odds of defeating President Obama in November.

His exchange with Jake Tapper:

TAPPER:  Are you worried at the tenor of the campaign being such that President Obama will have a much easier time being re-elected?  I've talked to a lot of Republicans who two or three months ago were very bullish on defeating President Obama and now are very, very worried that, because this race has gotten so nasty -- and, as you suggest, the negative ratings of the candidates have gone so high, he may, in fact, be re-elected. 

MCCAIN:  I am concerned about that Jake.  And I think there's reason to be concerned about it.  I've been in very tough campaigns.  I don't think I've seen one that was as personal and as characterized by so many attacks as these are.  And, frankly, one of the reasons is the super PACs.  And why do we have the super PACs?  Because the ignorance and naivete of the United States Supreme Court in the Citizens United campaign.  

Rick Santorum told a conservative crowd Saturday in Ohio that President Obama's agenda is based on a "phony theology" and not the Bible, according to Reuters. Here's what he said:

Obama's agenda is "not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology," Santorum told supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement at a Columbus hotel.

When asked about the statement at a news conference later, Santorum said, "If the president says he's a Christian, he's a Christian."

The remarks provoked a fierce response from the White House. Via ABC News:

Obama deputy press secretary Ben LaBolt called the comments the “latest low in a Republican primary campaign that has been fueled by distortions, ugliness, searing pessimism and negativity — a stark contrast with the president, who is focused every day on creating jobs and restoring economic security for the middle class.”

Santorum doubled down after the pushback, insisting Sunday that his comments were not a dog-whistle to false claims about President Obama's faith but rather about the notion that he's imposing secular values on religious people. He also tried to explain it by mentioning "radical environmentalists."

Former press secretary and current White House adviser Robert Gibbs called Santorum's remarks "wrong" and "over the line."

Republicans are continuing their gradual pivot away from the Paul Ryan Medicare plan they once voted for overwhelmingly -- another tacit admission that the blueprint is too radical to pass. But they haven't given up on the concept -- far from it. In fact, they're searching for more tactful ways to bring it to fruition.

The latest evidence came Thursday, when Republican Sens. Tom Coburn (OK) and Richard Burr (NC) rolled out a sweeping new plan that would transition Medicare to a subsidized private insurance system while giving seniors the option to remain in the traditional government-run program -- think "Obamacare" exchanges with a public option.

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TPM has obtained a detailed summary of the payroll tax cut deal, prepared by House GOP. Scroll down to read the document.

The deal caps off lengthy negotiations that achieved a breakthrough this week after House Republicans agreed to extend the payroll tax cut without offsets. Unemployment insurance and the Medicare "doc fix" will be paid for with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

"As of 4 p.m. a majority of House conferees and a majority of Senate Conferees have signed the conference report for HR 3630," a GOP aide told TPM Thursday.

It's expected to be voted on and wrapped up by the end of this weekend.

Payroll Tax Holiday Agreement-TPM

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Lawmakers sealed the deal late Wednesday night on yearlong extensions of the payroll tax cut, unemployment compensation and Medicare physician payment rates. It's a political victory for President Obama and the conclusion of a no-win situation for Republicans that they were eager to move past.

The agreement was announced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), the two lead negotiators in conference committee. Final votes are expected by the end of this weekend.

The conclusion comes at the end of a grueling series of negotiations that spilled over from last year. That led House Republicans to this week drop their demand that the payroll tax cut be offset with spending cuts elsewhere, paving the way for the agreement as the two sides had been deadlocked on pay-fors.

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