Today’s Headlines – April 26, 2012

Politico: Government Shutdown On The Horizon?
Plunging ahead along party lines, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a set of Republican-backed spending targets that break with the August debt accords by demanding more than $27 billion in additional savings from non-defense programs. The 28-21 vote sets up a long summer of political skirmishing, all leading to what could be another government shutdown fight Oct. 1 when a new fiscal year begins and the GOP must come to terms with the White House and Democratic Senate (Rogers, 4/25).

The New York Times: Two Parties Find A Way To Agree, And Disagree, On Student Loan Rates
Republicans were equally indignant at what they saw as game-playing, saying that they, too, want to forestall the rate increase. They quickly tried to outmaneuver the president. Late Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Boehner hastily called a news conference to announce that the House would vote Friday on a student loan bill that seemed to take shape just as suddenly. The proposal would extend the current interest rate for federal student loans for one year. The $6 billion cost would be offset by eliminating the remainder of the money from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a portion of the health care law (Baker and Steinhauer, 4/25).

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The Associated Press/Washington Post: Political States Rise In Fight Over Student Loans As Both Sides See Chance To Show Priorities
Democrats and Republicans alike say they want to prevent the cost of federal loans from ballooning for millions of students. But the effort has evolved into an election-year battle each side is using to embarrass the other and spotlight its own priorities to voters. In the latest political chess move, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, scheduled a House vote for Friday on legislation preventing the 3.4 percent interest rate on subsidized Stafford student loans from doubling as scheduled on July 1. In a bitter pill for Democrats, the measure’s $5.9 billion cost would be paid for with cuts from President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul bill (4/26).

The Washington Post: Republicans Announce House Vote To Keep Student-Loan Rates Steady
Congressional Republicans on Wednesday announced their opposition to a Democratic proposal to pay for extending low rates for college loans by imposing new payroll taxes on some small businesses. Instead, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House would vote Friday on a proposal to hold the interest rates steady — offsetting the $6 billion cost with a cut in a health prevention fund created under President Obama’s health-care law (Helderman and Kane, 4/25).

Los Angeles Times: Student Loans, Violence Against Women Act Spur Fights In Congress
The looming confrontations on both issues show how hard it is for Republicans — or Democrats, for that matter — to compromise in this highly contentious environment, even when doing so would arguably be in their political interest. Although Republicans say they support keeping student loan interest rates low, they oppose the tax hike on higher incomes proposed by Democrats to pay for it. Instead, they want to pull money from Obama’s healthcare programs. Republicans also are unveiling an alternative to the Violence Against Women legislation (Mascaro, 4/25).

The New York Times: Senate Passes Plan To Give Postal Service Fiscal Relief
Perhaps most significant, the bill would restructure the payments the agency makes into a health benefits fund for future retirees. Under a 2006 law, the agency has to pay $5.5 billion annually into the fund, which the Postal Service said had added $20 billion in debt to its balance sheet since 2007 (Nixon, 4/25).

The New York Times: 2 House Democrats Defeated After Opposing Health Law
The defeat of two conservative House Democrats by more liberal opponents in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary illustrates the strong hold the new health care law still has over committed Democratic voters and foreshadows an even more polarized Congress next year in the aftermath of the latest round of redistricting. Representatives Jason Altmire and Tim Holden both lost in primaries to opponents who joined together with activist groups to pummel the veteran lawmakers over the opposition to the new health care law… (Weisman, 4/25).

The Wall Street Journal: The Bite Of Redistricting Shrinks Ranks Of Blue Dogs
The ranks of the Blue Dogs … have already fallen from 54 members before the last election to 25 today. With the defeat of two leading members in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primaries, Reps. Tim Holden and Jason Altmire, the group has absorbed another blow. … Blue Dogs forced President Barack Obama two years ago to drop his goal of including a government-run insurance plan in his health-care overhaul, which eventually won a House majority and became law. In recent months, Blue Dogs have taken a leading role in trying to forge a deficit-cutting deal with both spending cuts and tax increases (Bendavid, 4/25).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Gingrich Faces Uncertain Future
As he winds down his presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich faces a new challenge: reinventing himself politically yet again. Gingrich reinvented the Republican Party in the House in 1994, leading the GOP to its first majority in 40 years and becoming speaker. Four years later, after Republicans pushed him out of House leadership and he resigned, he reinvented himself as a Republican elder focused on what he termed “big ideas” — health care, energy and space exploration — and as an able fundraiser for his political advocacy group. What could follow a run for president that saw Gingrich leading at times in national opinion polls? (4/26).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: HIV/AIDS Activists Hoping Anxiously That Health Care Law Survives Supreme Court Review
This loose-knit community — made up of activists, health professionals and an estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV — has invested high hopes in the Affordable Care Act, anticipating that it could dramatically improve access to lifesaving care and treatment. The act is now in limbo as the high court deliberates on its constitutionality, notably its requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance. A ruling could come in June (4/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Insurance Costs And Taxes Top Small Business Advocate NFIB’s Agenda
Dan Danner never expected to end up in the middle of the health care debate. Or, for that matter, in politics. As president of the National Federation of Independent Business, the biggest advocacy group representing small business owners in the U.S., Danner helped oversee the organization’s attempt to overturn the health care overhaul. Last month, the NFIB’s lawyers were among those arguing against the law before the Supreme Court (4/25).

NPR Shots Blog: Doctor Pay: Where The Specialists Are Above Average
Making a living practicing medicine is more complicated and frustrating than ever. But it still pays. And pretty well (Hensley, 4/25).

Los Angeles Times: WellPoint Earnings Drop 8%; Insurer Seeks Medicare Growth
The nation’s second-largest health insurer, after UnitedHealth Group Inc., runs Anthem Blue Cross in California and plans in 13 other states. It reported net income of $856.5 million, or $2.53 a share, for the three months ended March 31, compared to net of $926.6 million, or $2.44 a share, a year ago. Revenue grew 4% to $15.42 billion in the quarter (Terhune, 4/25).

The Wall Street Journal: WellPoint’s Profit, Membership Shrinks
While health insurers, in general, have benefited from the sluggish pace of patient visits to operating rooms and doctors’ offices, WellPoint’s gains have been muted by unexpectedly high costs for seniors in Northern California, where the company picked up thousands of members with expensive health issues. The company has said it has fixed the problem by walking away from the difficult market, which is part of some planned membership losses for the new year aimed at boosting profit margins (Athavaley, 4/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: WellPoint’s 1st Quarter Profit Drops Nearly 8 Percent; Health Insurer Raises 2012 Forecast
The Indianapolis company said Wednesday that it expects its capital management to improve after earning $169 million in investment income in the first quarter. Company leaders also said they anticipate improvements in their main businesses and more growth from a Medicare Advantage segment that hurt WellPoint last year (4/25).

The Associated Press/USA Today: Abortion Restrictions Gain Steam In The States
The 2012 anti-abortion push is not as heavy as last year, when legislators in 24 states, many elected in the 2010 Republican tide, passed a record 92 laws restricting abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a group that conducts sexual and reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education (Goldman, 4/26).