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 Minority Whip Steny Hoyer on Tuesday rebuked House Republicans from essentially walking away from the debt limit deal by cutting beneat the agreed-upon spending levels in the accord last August.

"We understand it abandons the agreement that was reached among Republicans and Democrats in order to pass the Budget Control Act that was essential to keep our country from defaulting," Hoyer told reporters at his weekly press conference. "There is no doubt that everybody at the table thought there was a deal, an understanding, an agreement."

"Senator Reid's right," he added. "It's going to be hard to negotiate with people and try to come to an agreement in a democratic process if the other side simply says, well, yeah we agreed on that some months ago but we're abandoning it now."

Hoyer flatly rejected the notion expressed by Speaker John Boehner that the agreement was simply an upper limit on spending as opposed to an agreed-upon figure for federal outlays.

"What kind of deal is that?" he said. "That's like saying we'll sit down on a contract and say, okay, I'll pay $100 for whatever service or good you're going to give me. And then I come back and say, no I'm only going to pay you $92 because that was just a top limit of what I was going to pay you. Who believes that? Nobody."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer laid down the Democrats' marker Tuesday by declaring that the new Paul Ryan Medicare plan is basically the same as his old one that ignited a firestorm of controversy.

"We think it's more of the same, essentially," Hoyer told reporters at his weekly press conference. "While he's tweaked the Medicare [plan], it will in fact do what his last budget did, and that is force people off Medicare, as it will increase the price of Medicare. We believe also that the guarantee, which allegedly is a change is, as a practical matter, is not a change."

The new plan replaces Medicare with a subsidized insurance exchange, as the old one does, but it includes traditional Medicare as an option among private plans that seniors can buy into. The value of the vouchers is slightly higher than his earlier plan.

The right is giving House GOP leaders a collective headache.

They were already under fire from conservative members for taking a piecemeal approach to repealing the health care law. Now conservative activists are after them for abandoning Tea Party principles at the same time.

Caught in the middle of these related attacks is President Obama's Medicare cost-cutting panel -- the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which was created by the health care law.

The House is poised to vote this week to repeal IPAB. A small but vocal contingent of dissatisfied, all-or-nothing Republicans worries that this strategy is too timid, and will lead the public to conclude that some parts of the law are acceptable.

But Tea Party activists are upset about something else entirely. GOP leadership has opted to fund the $3.1 billion cost of repealing IPAB with legislation written by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) that would reform medical malpractice laws. That's a problem not just for the handfuls of House Democrats who want to scrap IPAB, but also for conservatives who believe federal malpractice award caps are unconstitutional.

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President Obama may have the power to circumvent the Senate and recess-appoint members to his Medicare cost-cutting Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) once it takes effect, two physicians turned Republican senators warned in a new report Tuesday.

As part of an all-out GOP assault on the Affordable Care Act on the week of its two-year anniversary, a 38-page report released Tuesday by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John Barrasso (R-WY) runs the gamut of Republican messaging points against the law -- and expresses the fear that their party may not be able to stop Obama from implementing IPAB, which was enacted under the ACA.

"According to the CRS, there are no legal restrictions on the White House’s ability to bypass Congress and install politically-connected czars as members of this highly controversial panel," the senators' report reads. "'We do not see why,' CRS said, 'should the normal conditions for a recess appointment occur, the President could not recess appoint a majority of the 15- member Board with individuals of his choosing as long as those appointments complied with the other limitations established in that section.' The White House could effectively nominate political allies, bypass the Senate’s constitutional role to confirm these Presidential appointees."

Senate Republicans had already tipped their hand by suggesting they might refuse to confirm anyone to the board. And the new warning flag from Coburn and Barrasso about a possible work-around for Obama only reaffirms clear GOP appetite for using their clout to scale back, if not neuter, IPAB's effectiveness, in the event that they're unable to repeal it.

When top House Republicans advanced a bill this month aimed at repealing one of the most contentious parts of President Obama's health care law, they didn't see much downside. More bad press for health care reform, a splintered Democratic House minority and a consolidated Republican Party. They didn't look hard enough.

Not only have they managed to alienate some Democratic allies on the bill, slated for a floor vote this week, they're also facing heat from the right for targeting just the one provision of "Obamacare," instead of the law in its entirety.

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In one week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on a legacy-defining case for President Obama as it determines whether a crucial piece of his signature legislative achievement meets constitutional muster. The health care reform law's path to the high court has underscored a climate of supercharged partisan politics, and the highly anticipated decision expected this summer, in the dead heat of presidential election season, will help determine the trajectory of the nation's health care system.

The main question facing the justices is whether the law's requirement that Americans purchase insurance falls within the limits of federal power under the Constitution. They'll also hear arguments on whether, if the mandate is deemed unconstitutional, other aspects of the law such such coverage guarantee also need to be struck down. There's a chance that the court will punt the case to after 2014 under a law that says a tax may not be challenged in court until it is being collected.

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Republicans need to "get off" the issue of contraception and "fix" the perception that the party has spurned women, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) declared Sunday.

The party's 2008 standard-bearer, now a Mitt Romney surrogate, was asked by David Gregory on NBC's Meet The Press whether he thinks that "there is something of a war on women among Republicans."

"I think we have to fix that," McCain said. "I think that there is a perception out there, because of the way that this whole contraception issue played out. We need to get off of that issue, in my view. I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives, and make that clear, and get back on to what the American people really care about: jobs and the economy."

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Rick Santorum has garnered quite a bit of attention recently for his animated remarks against pornography, and on two separate Sunday shows the Republican presidential candidate refused to cede an inch, doubling down on his crusade against "hard-core pornography."

A recently added section on the candidate's website declares that America is "suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography," and laments that the "Obama Administration has turned a blind eye to those who wish to preserve our culture from the scourge of pornography and has refused to enforce obscenity laws." The site goes on to say that the Justice Department "seems to favor pornographers over children and families."

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Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a heralded Republican strategist, offered up yet more evidence Sunday that the GOP is coalescing around a 2012 message along the lines of: the economy is improving but it could be much better.

"The American people are being told by the news media, by the liberal media elite, how great the economy is. Well the economy is not great out in America," Barbour said on ABC's This Week. "Maybe it's gotten a little better but it kind of reminds me of an old country song from my youth -- the lyrics were, I've been down so long it looks like up to me now."

"So yeah, we've had some improvement on jobs, but we need a lot more," he added.

Bill Burton, former White House deputy spokesman who now runs the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA, countered on ABC, "I think the Clint Eastwood ad that it's halftime in America is probably a little more accurate."

Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) cracked a joke about Rick Santorum and condoms in a St. Patrick's Day speech in Boston, per a video clip captured by BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski.

"I see that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum now have Secret Service with them on the campaign trail," Brown said. "And in Santorum's case I think it's the first time he's actually ever used protection."

The crowd broke into laughter and applause, putting a satisfied look on Brown's face.

Update 1:15 pm ET: It turns out Brown isn't the first to make the joke.

Weeks ago, the late-night comedian Conan O'Brien said: "As of today, Rick Santorum will be assigned Secret Service agents. This is the first time Santorum has agreed to use any kind of protection."