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

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (MO) took to the Heritage Foundation on Monday to reaffirm the party's message that its ongoing battle against the Obama administration's tweaked birth control rule is about religious liberty and nothing else.

"What has to be protected here is the faith-based rights of conscience," the senator said, warning the friendly audience that supporters of the policy will try to narrow the debate. "Let's not let that happen," he told them. "Let's make sure the subject continues to be the First Amendment to the Constitution."

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) made the same argument yesterday.

The policy shift, announced Friday, allows religious nonprofits to opt out of paying for an employee's birth control coverage and pass the cost on to the insurance company instead.

Blunt dismissed it as an "accounting trick" that ignores the problem. "It's not even a distinction without a difference. There is no difference," he said. "[The President] still doesn't understand that this mandate isn't about cost -- it's about who controls the religious views of faith-based institutions."

Senate Republicans say they'll push legislation to repeal the mandate entirely and let any employer with a moral or religious objection deny birth control coverage in their health insurance plan. Blunt is the author of the bill.

Blunt said the battle will go on "unless the president totally changes his position," although he added that if the GOP override passes and Obama vetos it, "I'm pretty sure the two-thirds needed to override a veto is not there."

Republicans are doubling down in their assault on President Obama's birth control requirement, insisting that his accommodation of religious nonprofits does not address religious concerns. But by attempting to keep the heat on Obama, the GOP might be diving head-first into a culture war over contraception that social conservatives lost long ago in the minds of the public.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said the House will push to repeal the rule entirely, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Republicans will force a vote on legislation permitting any employer to deny birth control coverage in their health insurance plan by claiming a moral or religious objection. "This issue will not go away until the administration simply backs down," McConnell said Sunday on CBS' Face The Nation.

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Not satisfied with President Obama's new religious accommodation, Republicans will move forward with legislation by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that permits any employer to deny birth control coverage in their health insurance plans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Sunday.

"If we end up having to try to overcome the President's opposition by legislation, of course I'd be happy to support it, and intend to support it," McConnell said. "We'll be voting on that in the Senate and you can anticipate that that would happen as soon as possible."

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ABC's Jake Tapper catches White House chief of staff Jack Lew making an inaccurate statement on Senate budget procedure as he toured the Sunday shows previewing the President's budget:

"You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support," Lew said. “So unless… unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, [Majority Leader] Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed."

That’s not accurate. Budgets only require 51 Senate votes for passage, as Lew — former director of the Office of Management and Budget — surely must know.

Rick Santorum toured the Sunday shows aiming to reframe the GOP presidential primaries as a two-person race between him and Mitt Romney.

"I feel very good that this is a two-person race right now," Santorum said on MSNBC's "Meet The Press."

"We think this is a two-person race right now," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"I think we can do reasonably well in Arizona and, you know, really make this, you know, a two-person race," he said on ABC's "This Week."

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, suggested that the U.S. should financially assist the Syrian opposition to help resolve the bloody conflict.

"I think it's time to try to help the brave Syrian freedom fighters to carry out a fair fight," Lieberman said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union. "And I think it's time to give them help. Medical help first, and then I'd give them training, I'd give them communications equipment, and then ultimately I'd give them weapons."

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) dismissed the notion that President Obama's shift on contraception is a compromise -- the latest of many signs that Reublicans are going all in against the rule.

The exchange Sunday on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos":

STEPHANOPOULOS:  I know you're opposed to the compromise the president announced this week on this contraception coverage, but do you have the votes in the House to block it?

RYAN:  Absolutely, we do.  Look, to paraphrase the bishops' letter, this thing is a distinction without a difference.  It's an accounting gimmick or a fig leaf.  It's not a compromise.  The president's double-down.

What I see here in this whole episode, George, is it's a real teachable moment for America in two ways.  Number one, they're treating our constitutional First Amendment rights as revocable privileges from our government, not as an inalienable rights from our creator.  And number two, if this is what the president's willing to do in a tough election year, imagine what he will do in implementing the rest of his health care law after an election. 


Paul Ryan, the author of the GOP's plan to transform Medicare into a private insurance subsidies system, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that he's not concerned about Democrats' attacks, when asked whether they might hurt Republicans hoping to maintain their House majority this November.

Ryan told George Stephanopoulos:

No, I'm really not concerned about that, actually, George, because we're taking responsibility for dealing with the drivers of our debt.  You have to remember, George, that Medicare is going bankrupt, that the president's health care law puts a board of 15 unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of cutting Medicare, which will lead to denied care for seniors.  The president's health care law takes the $500 billion from Medicare to spend on Obamacare.

And so I think when you actually look at what we're proposing, we're showing that there's a bipartisan consensus in Congress on how to preserve the Medicare guarantee, how to save and strengthen the program.  We don't change any benefit for anybody 55 and above, and we save this guarantee for younger generations so they can actually count on it.

Ryan pointed to his work with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in developing a less sweeping alternative that keeps traditional Medicare as an option. He sought to portray such reforms as inevitable.

Paul Ryan, the House GOP's top budget man, said on ABC's "This Week" that Democratic leaders are refusing to work with Republicans on finding ways to pay for an extension of the payroll tax cut.

Yeah, it seems as if the parties -- the president's party leaders are more or less not engaging in these conversations.  We have offered literally scores of different offsets.  We've taken provisions from the president's own budget as ways of paying for this payroll tax holiday, yet they continue to insist on not agreeing to those kinds of things.

So I don't know where this is going to come down to it.  I do believe this will get extended.  But when we make offer after offer based on policies that we know Democrats and the president have supported in the past, yet they still insist on not coming to agreement, it's difficult to see exactly how this is going to pan out.

The remarks reflect that the negotiations still aren't going anywhere. Republicans are divided on whether to extend the tax holiday at all, but GOP leaders say they support the idea and want to offset it with spending cuts. Senate Democrats say they're working on a fallback plan of their own.

The payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance and existing Medicare doctor reimbursement levels expire March 1.

Rick Santorum called Mitt Romney "desperate" Sunday on ABC's "This Week" and unleashed a stinging broadside against the former Massachusetts governor.

He told George Stephanopoulos:

I mean, you know, Mitt Romney is the author of Romneycare, which is the biggest government expansion in the history of the state of Massachusetts and was the template for Obamacare.  He's supported cap-and-trade and the -- in Massachusetts.  He was for the Wall Street bailouts.  He ran as to the left of Ted Kennedy in 1994.

I mean, for him to suggest that I'm not the conservative in this race -- you know, there's -- you reach a point where desperate people do desperate things.  And I think Governor Romney now, as, you know, another candidate has come up to challenge him, and this time he's having trouble finding out how to -- how to go after someone who is a solid conservative, who's got a great track record of attracting independents and Democrats and winning states as a conservative.  You know, Governor Romney, when he ran his race, ran as a moderate in Massachusetts.

Santorum, who is surging among Republicans in national polls, was responding to a question about Romney's recent attacks on him.