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Historic Supreme Court hearing on Obamacare opens today

President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is front and center at the Supreme Court for three days of hearings to determine the fate of a law aimed at extending health insurance to more than 30 million Americans. The justices will hear arguments beginning Monday in a highly partisan legal fight between the Obama administration and the 26 states that are leading a challenge to the largest expansion in the nation’s social safety net in more than four decades. A decision is expected by late June, in the midst of a presidential election campaign in which all of Obama’s Republican challengers
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Obama sells access to the White House

President Barack Obama is using privileged access to one of America’s greatest landmarks to reward his most generous financial supporters in ways that Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum can’t match: More than 60 of Obama’s biggest campaign donors have visited the White House more than once for meetings with top advisers, holiday parties or state dinners, a review by The Associated Press has found. The invitations to visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which are a legal and established practice from incumbent presidents, came despite Obama’s past criticisms of Washington’s pay-for-access privileges and mark a reversal from early in the president’s
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GOP budget plan: A hot campaign issue

The new debt-slashing budget plan pushed by House Republicans heated up as a presidential campaign issue Sunday as the proposal’s architect, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, sparred with top Democrats over its political fallout and downplayed the possibility he could be tapped as a vice presidential candidate. Senior White House adviser David Plouffe dismissed the GOP plan Sunday as “a lot of candy, not a lot of vegetables,” and charged that it would be “rubber-stamped” as law if leading Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is elected. “This is really the Romney-Ryan plan,” Plouffe said, adding that its mix of across-the-board
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Santorum cruises to expected win in Louisiana

Rick Santorum won the Louisiana Republican presidential primary Saturday, beating front-runner Mitt Romney in yet another conservative Southern state. “We’re still here. We’re still fighting. We still believe, as this race really shows,” Santorum told supporters in Green Bay, Wis. Although the victory gives Santorum bragging rights and 10 more delegates, it does not change the overall dynamics of the race; the former Pennsylvania senator still dramatically lags behind Romney in the hunt for delegates to the GOP’s summertime nominating convention. Even so, Santorum’s win underscores a pattern in the drawn-out race. The under-funded underdog has tended to win in
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Right-wing, Bible-thumpers and rednecks fueled Santorum’s win

Rick Santorum turned in his most impressive performance yet with conservative, blue-collar and religious voters as he rode to triumph Saturday in Louisiana’s Republican presidential primary, capturing robust support from people across the board, according to an exit poll of voters. Highlighting his strength, the former Pennsylvania senator bested Mitt Romney for the first time among those calling the economy the campaign’s dominant issue. As usual this year, more voters named the economy as their top concern than any other problem and 46 percent of them said Santorum was their candidate — an embarrassment for Romney, the former venture capitalist
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Environmentalists wonder: What are Republicans smoking?

Mitt Romney says President Barack Obama blocked construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline as a gift to environmentalists. Newt Gingrich calls Obama “President Algae” for supporting research on biofuels. And Rick Santorum says Obama’s environmental views constitute a “phony theology” that prioritizes the earth over people. The leading Republican presidential hopefuls have cast Obama as environmental extremist whose policies have put him out of touch with the needs of ordinary Americans. It’s a characterization that may resonate with GOP primary voters, but it has surprised environmental activists, many of whom say they are let down by Obama’s record on
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‘Tis the political season to be silly

Silly-season pollen seems to have infected the campaign trail. On the Democratic side, the excitable Vice President Joe Biden made the jaw-dropping claim that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was unsurpassed in its audacity by anything that has happened since the 16th century — that’s right, for 500 years. Among Republicans, a punchy Rick Santorum declared that President Barack Obama’s health care law makes the life of every single American dependent on the government. Seriously? However far-reaching, the law is neither life-giving, nor health-destroying, and most Americans probably won’t feel a thing. Mitt Romney, for his part, continued
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With court case looming, insurance companies prep for change

The nation’s big insurers are spending millions to carry out President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul even though there’s a chance the wide-reaching law won’t survive Supreme Court scrutiny. It’s not that health insurers want to bet big that the court will uphold the Affordable Care Act. It’s that they can’t afford not to. It will take at least several months and lots of resources for insurers to prepare to implement key elements of the law, which includes a controversial requirement that most Americans have health insurance by 2014. WellPoint Inc., the nation’s second-largest health insurer with 34 million members,
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Obamacare gets high court hearing next week

President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul faces its biggest court test next week, capping a legal battle that could reshape the powers of the U.S. government, redefine medical care for most Americans and transform the 2012 election campaign. The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court will pepper lawyers with questions, possibly signaling how they might rule, during a modern-day record six hours of oral arguments from Monday through Wednesday. The justices, five of whom were appointed by Republican presidents and four by Democratic ones, promise a ruling by late June on the 2010 law passed by Congress that already has begun
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Housing market shows some signs of recovery

Home sales fell in February, but upward revisions to the prior month’s pace and the first yearly increase in prices in 15 months pointed to steady improvement in the housing market. Existing home sales fell 0.9 percent in February from January but still notched their second highest level since May 2010, the National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday. “We are starting to improve slowly. There is some encouraging news, but the dramatic things that need to happen to really turn the market around aren’t there,” said Mitchell Hochberg, Principal at Madden Real Estate Ventures in New York. Realtors say
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