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

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.

White House chief of staff Jack Lew toured the Sunday shows previewing President Obama's budget proposal to be released Monday. He said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos":

The president's budget is a plan for 10 years, and over the 10 years, what it would do is bring the deficit down to below 3 percent of the economy, which means that we won't be adding to the deficit based on current spending.  Secondly, it'll bring the debt as a percentage of the economy down to a point that all international financial organizations look at and say is what you need to do to have stability. ...

I think that what we have to do is focus on the long term and the short term at the same time.  In the short term, we need to keep the economy growing.  In the long term, we need to get the deficit under control in a way that builds the economy that can last for the future, where we build a manufacturing base, we have Americans with the skills to do the work for the future, we have energy so that we can provide for more of our energy needs, and we do it in a way that's consistent with American values so that everyone pays a fair share.

Lew aded on CNN's "State of the Union" that the budget will aim to jumpstart the economy while including $4 trillion in long-term deficit reduction. "There are a lot of tough cuts, ranging from consolidating field offices and closing them down in places like the agriculture department, to consolidating training programs," Lew said.

CNN's Candy Crowley unsuccessfully pressed Lew to concede that the proposal is another "stimulus."

White House chief of staff Jack Lew said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that the president's tweaked rule requiring insurance companies to pay for the cost of birth control (if religious non-profits claim an exemption in their health plans) would save insurers money in the long-run.

The transcript between Lew and Candy Crowley:

LEW:  You know, I have to tell you, as somebody who's done budgets for a lot of years, usually when people say to me that something doesn't cost money, I ask them, how could that be?  This is the exception to the rule.  If you priced two insurance plans, one of them with contraception and other without, the plan without contraception costs more than the one with it.  So this will not cost the insurance companies money.  It will not put religious institutions in a position (ph) where they have to violate their principles.

CROWLEY:  Why won't it?  Why -- why is that?

LEW:  Because the total cost of care for persons is higher without than it is with contraception

The insurance industry's top lobbying group said Friday it was "concerned" with the precedent set by the rule.

White House chief of staff Jack Lew said Sunday that President Obama struck the right balance between access to women's health services and respect for religious liberty with his tweak to the birth control rule. He emphasized that even though Catholic Bishops say the shift is not good enough, other Catholic organizations support it.

He said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

You know, George, from the very beginning, the president had two important goals here.  One is to guarantee that every woman has a right to all forms of preventive health care, including contraception, secondly, that we do it in a way that respects the legitimate religious differences and the religious liberties that are so important in our country.

I think what the president announced on Friday struck the kind of balance to reconcile those two very important values.  I think the fact that on Friday groups ranging from Catholic charities and the Catholic Health Association to Planned Parenthood all embraced what the president proposed speak to the fact that it is where that reconciliation is.

We didn't expect that there would be universal support, but we do think this is the right way to go, and it's a plan that we're going to pursue.

Lew predicted that insurance companies, which will have to pick up the cost of free birth control if religious non-profits claim the exemption, will save money in the long-run as a result.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said Friday that he doesn't believe birth control pills prevent pregnancies -- and suggested that they're a form of abortion.

"The objection that the Catholic Church and I have to the morning after pill," King told MSNBC's Martin Bashir, "is because it ends the life of an unborn baby."

Here's the exchange that followed:

BASHIR: As you know, sir, the contraceptive pill doesn't abort a pregnancy. It prevents a pregnancy from happening. That's not what I'm talking about...

KING: Well, I really don't concede that. And that's not either the Catholic Church's position.

King joined other Republicans in saying he was not satisfied by the White House's tweak to its contraception rule Friday morning, which allows religious non-profits to opt out of the requirement and pass the cost of the birth control to the insurance company.

This article was updated at 1:00 pm ET to include breaking news after publication.

The Obama administration is already facing lawsuits challenging its requirement that insurance plans cover birth control as a violation of religious freedom. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has flatly called the regulation unconstitutional. But although it's unclear how much traction the legal challenges will gain, especially in light of the White House adjusting the mandate Friday, the President and his backers have one unlikely man to thank for helping their cause: Justice Antonin Scalia.

"One thing I think is crystal clear -- there is no First Amendment violation by this law," Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA, told TPM. "The Supreme Court was very clear in a case called Employment Division v. Smith, written by none other than Antonin Scalia, that religious believers and institutions are not entitled to an exemption from generally applicable laws."

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In his 2006 Massachusetts health care law, Mitt Romney embraced a virtually identical contraception coverage mandate as President Obama recently has, experts say, and as a result expanded access to birth control for hundreds of thousands of women. And Democrats really want you to know that.

"They are practically mirror images or each other," John McDonough, a professor of public health at Harvard, said on a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee. "They completely reflect each other."

Romney has embraced the shocked, shocked tone of leading Republicans on this issue in recent days, and Democrats have acted swiftly to flag up inconsistencies in his position.

Read More →