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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

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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Count Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) as a likely "no" vote on the payroll tax cut package.

"If it's not paid for I won't vote for it," Coburn told reporters. "Period." He added that he hasn't seen the conference report yet, and TPM noted that the payroll tax cut is not expected to be funded (although the other provisions are.)

"I'm not going to vote for it," Coburn continued. "We're going to have a $1.3 trillion deficit this year. I can show you $350 billion worth of waste or fraud in our present federal government, and we don't have the gonads to stand up and find some of that to pay for this? Instead our easy way out is we're going to charge it to our children? That's immoral to me. It's absolutely immoral."

What do you do if your party's marching behind an issue that your likely nominee for president has a spotty record on?

That conundrum faces most congressional Republicans right now. When it comes to their push to reverse the White House's mandate to expand access to birth control -- which they argue violates religious freedom -- Mitt Romney's record is unfortunate. As governor of Massachusetts, he presided over the same policy critics are now assailing President Obama for: obliging most employers to provide health insurance that includes birth control for their female employees, even if the employer belongs to a religion that opposes those services. Indeed, because of the White House's compromise, which would allow religious nonprofits to opt out of paying the insurer for those services and demand that the insurer offer them to the female employee directly, Romney's law was arguably even stronger.

On Wednesday more than two-dozen Republican lawmakers ran into this issue head-on. They gathered together in the Capitol to fulminate against President Obama's egregious violation of religious freedom. But none of them would rule out supporting a presidential candidate who had enacted a virtually identical mandate.

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Democrats opened Chairman Darrell Issa's (R-CA) House oversight committee hearing on President Obama's birth control rule by criticizing the GOP majority for deying a minority-invited female witness the opportunity to testify.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) made the charge, which TPM reported earlier, when Ranking Dem Elijah Cummings turned part of his opening statement to her Thursday morning.

Issa responded, "It is a tradition, not a rule of the committee, that the minority have a witness." He argued that the witness was not "appropriate or qualified," saying she couldn't be fully vetted by his staff in a timely and appeared not to have the "appropriate credentials."

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