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

Cuts proposed by House Republicans to programs designed to weed out waste and abuse within Social Security could end up costing taxpayers more in the long run than the spending cuts themselves are designed to save, according to the program's chief actuary.

An appropriations bill that last week cleared a GOP-led subcommittee slashes 2013 funding for disability reviews and eligibility redeterminations, which seek to ensure that seniors and other eligible beneficiaries don't receive more funds than they are entitled to. The proposed cuts would shave this specific budget item from the $1.024 billion agreed upon in the debt limit law last year to $272 million, saving nearly $800 million.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Thursday sought to seize on her party's Senate victory on the Bush tax cuts by calling on House Republicans to take up a bill to avert a rate hike on incomes below $250,000.

"Yesterday was a great day. The United States Senate voted to give 100 percent of Americans -- everyone in this country -- a tax cut. We all agree that's a good idea. The only thing standing in the way of a middle income tax cut is the House Republicans," she told reporters. "We call upon our Republican colleagues to bring this bill to the floor today."

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Raising his profile at an opportune moment, rumored vice presidential candidate Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on Wednesday introduced a measure to establish an automatic mechanism to prevent government shutdowns, a recurring feature of the 112th Congress.

The End Government Shutdowns Act would create an automatic continuing resolution if Congress fails to fund the government through regular channels in time. Funding would continue at existing levels for 120 days, then fall by 1 percent every 90 days thereafter. The bill was unveiled by Portman and 9 cosponsors: Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), John Barrasso (R-WY), John Boozman (R-AR), Dan Coats (R-IN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mike Lee (R-UT) and John McCain (R-AZ).

It's a not-so-subtle jab at House Republicans, who have been at the center of repeated near-shutdowns since 2011, refusing to fund the government unless their policy demands were met. The move reflects Senate Republicans' frustration with the obstinacy of rank-and-file House colleagues, who are again flirting with shutting down the government this fall, just weeks away from the election.

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Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on Wednesday stood up for Chief Justice John Roberts in the wake of the 'Obamacare' ruling, calling the right's criticisms "unfortunate" and reflective of a "lack of understanding."

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the first female justice was asked about conservatives' accusations that Roberts betrayed their movement by joining the court's four liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

"It's unfortunate because I think comments like that demonstrate only too well the lack of understanding that some of our citizens have about the role of the judicial branch," O'Connor said. "And I think the framers of our federal Constitution did a great job in understanding themselves that the judicial branch needed to be able to make independent decisions on the legitimacy, the lawfulness of acts on the state and federal level."

With Democrats seeking to brand the GOP as middle class tax hikers ahead of a Wednesday vote on tax plans, the Senate's No. 2 Republican says he'll "find out" why his party's competing proposal omits extensions of three expiring tax cuts aimed at middle-income Americans.

"I'm just hearing that for the first time," Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said Tuesday afternoon. "I'm going to find out why that is not included." He added that omission of those three items would still not amount to a good reason to vote against the GOP plan.

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A majority of the House Republican conference is pushing their leaders to block funds for 'Obamacare' when government funding requires renewal on Oct. 1, a demand that could lead to a government shutdown weeks before Election Day.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) appeared to brush off the demand on Tuesday.

In a letter (PDF) dated July 18, some 127 House GOP lawmakers urged Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) not to permit "any legislation" to come to the floor that includes Affordable Care Act implementation funds. The implied message: shut down the government unless Democrats agree to defund President Obama's signature law.

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Senate Democrats are working to shatter the GOP's central argument in the tax battle -- that unlike Democrats, they oppose raising taxes on anyone.

"It turns out that's simply false," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters Tuesday. "That's because buried deep inside Senator Hatch's proposal are three back-breaking tax hikes on middle class families. They're actually willing to increase taxes on the middle class."

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) office responded late Tuesday to TPM's article on his administration's slow-walking of an Affordable Care Act provision, a move that could potentially turn over the authority to the federal government.

In an email, Perry's spokesperson Allison Castle says Texas is merely seeking to be "thorough, complete, and accurate" in reviewing its insurance company practices, although she doesn't clarify whether the state will honor the Affordable Care Act statute, which the governor has been reluctant to do.

Castle writes:

Texas conducts rate reviews independent of the creation of a healthcare insurance exchange, and does so in a way that creates regulatory certainty. To say that Texas is “biding its time” on rate reviews in inaccurate. When insurance companies file rates they are very rarely, if ever, complete filings. The rate filing is really the beginning of the process for TDI to conduct its rate review.  It is much better for our regulatory agency to be thorough, complete, and accurate in its rate review than it is to be quick.

Rate reviews in Texas are determined by whether a rate is actuarially sound, whereas the standard under Obamacare is an arbitrary “unreasonable” determination that does not provide clarity or certainty to the marketplace.

Gov. Rick Perry's persistent refusal to implement 'Obamacare' in the name of states' rights might further endear him to the GOP base. But if states' rights is the goal, his strategy is counterproductive as it's providing the Obama administration more power over Texas.

The latest chapter in this story, as NPR reports, is Perry slow-walking the law's probe of insurance company rate hikes, known as rate review. The move could similarly turn over his administration's authority to police insurance company practices to the federal government.

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House Republicans have sidelined -- at least for now -- legislation that repeals the Obama administration's contraception coverage guarantee and makes cuts to funding for women's health programs. A committee markup initially anticipated for this week won't happen, nor are GOP leaders certain it will come to the floor at all.

The sweeping bill, which last week passed the Appropriations subcommittee on labor and health, offered a political opportunity for Democrats to hammer away at the GOP's deep cuts to domestic programs, leaving them upset that the markup is now in limbo.

"I am deeply disappointed that we will not have a public discussion of Chairman Rehberg's vision for implementing the Romney-Ryan Budget," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the subcommittee's top Democrat, in a statement Monday. "This bill was bad for women, bad for children, bad for the most vulnerable among us and bad for middle-class Americans."

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