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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

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said Friday that he doesn't believe birth control pills prevent pregnancies -- and suggested that they're a form of abortion.

"The objection that the Catholic Church and I have to the morning after pill," King told MSNBC's Martin Bashir, "is because it ends the life of an unborn baby."

Here's the exchange that followed:

BASHIR: As you know, sir, the contraceptive pill doesn't abort a pregnancy. It prevents a pregnancy from happening. That's not what I'm talking about...

KING: Well, I really don't concede that. And that's not either the Catholic Church's position.

King joined other Republicans in saying he was not satisfied by the White House's tweak to its contraception rule Friday morning, which allows religious non-profits to opt out of the requirement and pass the cost of the birth control to the insurance company.

This article was updated at 1:00 pm ET to include breaking news after publication.

The Obama administration is already facing lawsuits challenging its requirement that insurance plans cover birth control as a violation of religious freedom. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has flatly called the regulation unconstitutional. But although it's unclear how much traction the legal challenges will gain, especially in light of the White House adjusting the mandate Friday, the President and his backers have one unlikely man to thank for helping their cause: Justice Antonin Scalia.

"One thing I think is crystal clear -- there is no First Amendment violation by this law," Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA, told TPM. "The Supreme Court was very clear in a case called Employment Division v. Smith, written by none other than Antonin Scalia, that religious believers and institutions are not entitled to an exemption from generally applicable laws."

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In his 2006 Massachusetts health care law, Mitt Romney embraced a virtually identical contraception coverage mandate as President Obama recently has, experts say, and as a result expanded access to birth control for hundreds of thousands of women. And Democrats really want you to know that.

"They are practically mirror images or each other," John McDonough, a professor of public health at Harvard, said on a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee. "They completely reflect each other."

Romney has embraced the shocked, shocked tone of leading Republicans on this issue in recent days, and Democrats have acted swiftly to flag up inconsistencies in his position.

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Legislation introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to reverse the Obama administration's birth control rule would effectively permit any employer to deny contraception coverage in their employee health plans, critics note.

"Any employer could deny birth control coverage under Rubio's bill and all the employer would have to do is say it's for a religious reason," said Jessica Arons, Director of the Women's Health and Rights Program at the liberal Center for American Progress. "There is no test to prove eligibility. It's a loophole you could drive a truck through."

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Thursday voiced his objection to the idea of using war savings from troop withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan as a potential offset for the Medicare "doc fix." 

"I think it needs to pass the straight face test," Boehner told reporters when asked about the prospect. "And the fact is we are going to spend less in our war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. And to use those funds, those savings, to propell more spending doesn't seem to make a great deal of sense."

TPM reported yesterday that House GOP leadership had privately taken off the table the $838 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) savings as a potential offset to fix the Medicare physician payment formula. The idea has strong support among Democrats and some prominent Republicans.

Medicare doctors are poised to take a 27.4 percent cut on March 1 if no action is taken.

Congressional Republicans' pledge to mount a legislative push against the Obama administration's requirement that health insurance plans cover birth control comes with a risk: Alienating their members who have previously pushed or voted to mandate contraception coverage.

Back in 2001, six Republican senators sponsored legislation decreeing that health insurance plans may not "exclude or restrict benefits for prescription contraceptive drugs or devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration." In other words, they would be required to provide birth control. The bill never made it out of committee, but that wasn't for a lack of effort from the GOP.

The measure's lead sponsor was Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and cosponsors included Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME); the other four have since left Congress. Counterpart legislation in the House was introduced by former Rep. James Greenwood (R-PA) and cosponsored by 14 others Republicans including incumbent Rep. Todd Platts (PA) and now-Sen. Mark Kirk (IL).

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Sen. Susan Collins's (R-ME) spokesman emails TPM this response regarding her prior support for legislation that included a birth control coverage requirement:

Senator Collins is an original cosponsor of Senator Rubio’s bill because she disagrees with the Administration’s decision.  She believes it presents the Catholic church, and other faith-based organizations, with an impossible choice between violating their religious beliefs or complying with federal regulations.  Senator Collins believes, in issuing these regulations, the Administration has chosen to ignore thousands of comments that were submitted expressing concern that the proposed narrow religious exemption is insensitive and a direct affront to the conscience and beliefs of many religious people and organizations.

It’s important to note that Senator Snowe’s bill was a mandate on insurance companies, not employers.

And, Senator Snowe always said that she intended to work with religious groups to include a conscience clause.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave a rare floor speech Wednesday threatening legislative action if the Obama administration does not reverse its rule requiring health insurance plans to cover birth control without copays.

"If the president does not reverse the Department's attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must," Boehner said. "This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand."

The Speaker said the House would take matters into its own hands with committee hearings and legislative action to push back if the administration declines to act.

"In the days ahead, the House will approach this matter fairly and deliberately, through regular order and the appropriate legislative channels," Boehner said. He called on the Energy & Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue, to take steps against the rule and "consider all possible options."

Boehner last week called the regulation unconstitutional. The White House is weighing options to appease religious concerns.

Watch Boehner's speech below:

House GOP leaders are set to shoot down a silver-bullet pay-for to fix Medicare physician payment rates, sources close to leadership tell TPM, even though the idea has strong support among Democrats and some key Republican lawmakers. The so-called "doc fix" is being negotiated as part of the payroll tax cut package and momentum to use war savings to eliminate the Medicare flaw has recently halted due to GOP divisions over the idea.

The idea of using unspent Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funds from troop withdrawals Iraq and Afghanistan has the support of top Democrats as well as influential Republicans like Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (AZ) and GOP Doctors Caucus chairman Rep. Phil Gingrey (GA). While President Obama and Dems want to tap into the $838 billion fund for infrastructure as well, GOP backers say it shouldn't be used for anything other than a doc fix.

But two former Republican staffers turned health industry lobbyists say House GOP leaders are now opposed to tapping into the money even for that.

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