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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

In their ongoing attempt to portray the Obama administration's birth control rule as infringing on religious freedom, House Republicans invited a Muslim witness to a hearing who pointed out that such a precedent could permit the government to make laws that violate Islamic code.

Asma Uddin, editor-in-chief of the Muslim-American website altmuslimah.com and an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argued in her testimony Tuesday that the contraception mandate is a violation of the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. Later, under questioning from House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Uddin explained how the regulation's precedent could infringe upon the rights of Muslims.

"If the government mandated everything that had positive health benefits, it could possibly mandate that everyone drink red wine for heart health even though it violates the religious beliefs of Muslims," Uddin said.

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House Democrats gathered Tuesday in the Capitol to defend the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) -- better known as food stamps -- and push back on Republicans for using the program as a political football. 

"It is in our economic best interest to maintain strong SNAP funding and I am shocked by the contempt Republicans have directed at many struggling Americans," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Newt Gingrich, for instance, often calls Barack Obama the "food stamp president."

Said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA): "I know it’s fashionable among Republicans to demonize the poor, but the fact is that SNAP is one of the most effective programs we have."

Behind the Dems' defense of SNAP is an important point: studies have found that food stamps are among the most stimulative economic measures available during a recession, a conclusion corroborated by the Congressional Budget Office.

House Republicans, seeking not repeat an embarrassing mistake, invited three female witnesses for a four-person panel at a Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday about the Obama administration's birth control rule.

The witness list, according to the majority staff on committee:

The Most Reverend William Lori
Chairman, Ad Hoc
Committee for Religious Liberty
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Mrs. Asma Uddin
Attorney
Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Dr. Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H
Dean, School of Public Health
Univeristy of California, Los Angeles

Ms. Jeanne Monahan
Director, Center for Human Dignity
Family Research Council 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters that the Senate will vote Thursday on the Blunt amendment, which permits all employers to exclude health care services from their insurance plans that they find morally objectionable. It was drafted in response to the Obama administration's birth control rule.

House Republicans are poised to advance legislation this week to repeal President Obama's Medicare cost-cutting board, a provision enacted in the health care reform law. The Energy & Commerce Committee is set to mark it up this Wednesday, and the repeal bill already has enough cosponsors to pass the House. It's not expected to survive the Senate or Obama's veto pen, but the debate over this provision cuts to the heart of the battle over how to save Medicare in the long run.

Some background: The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is set to take effect in 2014, and would comprise 15 President-appointed and Senate-confirmed experts charged with holding down Medicare per-beneficiary spending by restricting reimbursements to providers. It is forbidden from cutting payments to beneficiaries. Congress can override the panel is by passing an alternate way to save the same amount of money, or with a three-fifths Senate majority. The health care industry has been outspoken in its hatred for IPAB. Republicans are united in their effort to kill it, and even some House Dems are on that page.

The question now is: Why is the party that's hell-bent on reining in Medicare pushing to repeal this powerful tool for doing just that? Part of it is to score political points by slicing off a key piece of the Affordable Care Act. But more importantly, Republicans don't want to keep Medicare in its current form. Many of them don't think that's feasible. They want to transition it to a privatized model a la the Paul Ryan plan, where seniors get a fixed subsidy -- or "premium support" -- to buy their own insurance on a private exchange.

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For a moment there, President Obama apparently forgot Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's name during a Monday speech about education to the National Governors Association.

Seeking to praise the governor for his efforts on education, Obama mistakenly referred to him as "Jack O'Malley" -- before correcting himself a few seconds later.

Politico's Byron Tau notes that "Jack O'Malley is a former Chicago prosecutor and a lecturer at the University of Chicago, where Obama also lectured."

President Obama on Monday called on the nation's governors to boost their investments in education programs that work in their states, including higher education.

"Today, I'm calling on all of you -- invest more in education. Invest more in our children and our future," Obama said at the National Governors Association meeting. "We've got to get past the old dogmas -- whether on the liberal side, or the conservative side."

The President said the strength of the nation's education will be a critical determinant of America's ability to continue leading the world. "No issue will have a bigger impact on the future performance of our economy than education," he said. "The countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow."

He said his administration intends to work with governors to "fix" No Child Left Behind and help make college more affordable for those who want to attend. He said federal assistance to states will be affected by performances and efforts in these areas.

"I believe education is an issue that is best addressed at the state level. And governors are in a position to have the best impact," Obama said. "This is going to be something that I'm going to want to collaborate with all of you on."

"Frankly," he said, "I don't think this should be a partisan issue." The governors applauded.

Mitt Romney visited the Daytona 500 rally in Florida on Sunday, praising what he called a "quintiseentially American" sport. Asked whether the trip outside of Michigan was a sign of confidence that he would win the hotly-contested state, he replied, "No, it's a sign of a guy who loves cars." It's what happened next, though, that has set the net ablaze.

Here's how CBS News described it:

[This] should have been a chance to show he's one of the guys. Instead, in casual conversation with an Associated Press reporter at the Florida track, he reminded people once again that he is not exactly a regular Joe.

Asked by the AP reporter if he follows NASCAR, Romney responded, "Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners."

Update: You can now listen to the audio of it via this link.

The Associated Press reports more fatalities in Afghanistan:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Demonstrators hurled grenades at a U.S. base in northern Afghanistan, and a gun battle left two Afghans dead and seven NATO troops injured Sunday in the escalating crisis over the burning of Muslim holy books at an American airfield.

More than 30 people have been killed, including four U.S. troops, in six days of unrest. Still, the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan said the violence would not change Washington's course .

"Tensions are running very high here, and I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business," Ambassador Ryan Crocker told CNN's "State of the Union."

Rick Santorum has lamented in recent public appearances that Americans are losing their religion by going to college. Asked to defend his charge that President Obama is a "snob" for wanting all Americans to engage in higher education, Santorum repeated the claim Sunday on ABC's This Week, declaring that "62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it." He's invoked the same figure before.

A slight problem: multiple studies have found that the opposite is true -- including the one that Santorum has reportedly been referring to.

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