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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

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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Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is publicly conceding that Republicans are losing the politics of the payroll tax cut battle and have found themselves in a no-win situation.

The staunch conservative's remarkable admission comes by way of the New York Times:

But many Republicans seemed to fear that the battle had already been lost. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said the Republicans should never have accepted the payroll tax cut in 2010 when President Obama pushed it as a condition for extending President George W. Bush’s expiring tax cuts. "Now Republicans have our backs against the wall," Mr. DeMint said. “We can't win the argument. We're going to have to go on to something else."

The bipartisan, bicameral negotiations hit a wall this week.

(h/t Greg Sargent)

Amid raging controversy over the Obama administration's contraception regulation, a new poll finds strong support for the policy that requires employers to ensure access to birth control without copays in their health care plans.

Fifty-five percent of Americans agreed that "employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost," according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey released Tuesday. Forty percent disagreed.

Perhaps more remarkable is that 58 percent of Catholics -- the community that's most vocal in their opposition -- supported the statement, the poll found.

Studies also show that an overwhelming majority of American women across faiths have used contraception.

The Obama administration's requirement that health insurance plans cover birth control has provoked a full-blown Republican firestorm over religious liberty. But the policy itself carves out an exemption for churches and doesn't require any individual or employer to violate a religious belief -- it simply ensures that their employees with different beliefs have the same access to birth control as all other women.

The background: The Affordable Care Act provides that insurance companies cover certain preventive health services without copays. Last August, the Department of Health and Human Services drew upon recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and decided that birth control be part of that package. It said employer-based health care plans must cover contraceptive services without copays. The move received limited attention at the time.

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Asked about the divisions within his House GOP caucus, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) quipped Monday that the institution is dysfunctional by design.  

"I'm presiding over an institution that was designed not to work," Boehner said on PBS NewsHour. "You know, the founding fathers gave us 435 members from all across the country. One big committee to solve America's issues. It's a demanding job. But I'm glad I've got it."

The Speaker said the frequency of elections makes it difficult to get important work done.

Boehner insisted he has a good personal relationship with President Obama even though they disagree on policy. He blamed the current divisions over the payroll tax cut package on Democrats' resistance to cut spending. (House Dems have said they want to fund it with a millionaire surtax and war savings.)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is not considering a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut and wants a full year continuation, a spokesman told TPM.

"We're not talking about 60 days," the Reid spokesman said. "Plan A is a year, Plan B is a year. Reid has said he wants a yearlong extension countless times."

Democrats have yet to detail an offsets package, but they're reportedly developing one. House Republicans want to use the pay-fors they passed in their December payroll bill, a GOP aide tells TPM.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters Monday that Reid was mulling a short-term extension. The two sides have until the end of February to agree on offsets before the tax break expires.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said Monday that the payroll tax cut needs to be extended for a full year, something both sides say they want but have yet to agree on offsets for.

"I want to see the payroll tax holiday extended for the year," Cantor told reporters, according to his office. "This is where the House Republicans were in December."

The Virginia Republican said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is mulling a two-month extension of the tax holiday. The issue is being deliberated along with extending unemployment compensation and averting cuts to Medicare physician payment rates.

"Harry Reid needs to finally step up and say he is for extending the payroll tax holiday for a year, and stop all the discussion of 60 days," Cantor said. "We can do this. It's not that difficult."

 

Virginia Governor and Mitt Romney surrogate Bob McDonnell (R) on Sunday floated what may turn into a Republican talking point if the economy continues to improve: It wasn't President Obama who made it happen, it was the GOP governors.

"Look, I'm glad the economy is starting to recover, but I think it's because of what Republican governors are doing in their states, not because of the president," McDonnell said on CNN's "State of the Union."

The Virginia governor unleashed a comprehensive broadside against Obama's economic record and governance in his first term. "It's been a complete failure of leadership," he said. "He cannot run on his record. He's had no plan for jobs or energy that he's got passed, so he's got a tough record."

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