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Today’s Headlines – March 1, 2012

Good morning! Here are your morning headlines:

The New York Times: Political Memo: Candidates Scramble To Create Differences
Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum both support the repeal of President Obama’s national health care law. Mr. Santorum has criticized Mr. Romney for creating the Massachusetts plan that served as the federal model. Mr. Romney, meanwhile, recently blamed Mr. Santorum for playing a crucial role in the passing of the federal bill, because in 2004 he endorsed the re-election of Senator Arlen Specter, who later voted for the Obama health plan. … Mr. Santorum backed Mr. Bush’s expansion of the Medicare prescription drug program. Jim Talent, the former senator of Missouri who has endorsed Mr. Romney, recently slammed Mr. Santorum for that support on a conference call (Harwood, 2/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Analysis: Snowe’s Departure May Fuel Anger At Congress That Puts Partisanship Before Solutions
The surprising retirement of moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine moves congressional centrists a step closer to extinction and highlights the great paradox of American politics. … Snowe found it increasingly difficult to reach across party lines that kept moving further apart. She joined all other Senate Republicans in opposing the final version of Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul. And she grew weary of the constant pressure to bash Democrats on everything and to expect the same in return (3/1).

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The Wall Street Journal: Political Center Shrinks In Congress
Ms. Snowe is one of an increasingly rare breed of senator willing to back legislation crafted by the other side. After President Barack Obama came to office, she supplied a crucial vote for his stimulus plan and supported his health law in committee, though she later opposed it on the floor. She also backed the New Start arms-reduction treaty at the end of last year. … A new analysis by the National Journal ranks Ms. Snowe the 46th most-conservative senator, placing her on the fault line between the two parties. Many of her colleagues said her departure reflects poorly on the chamber (Bendavid, 2/29).

Politico: Olympia Snowe Departure Exposes GOP Rift
Sen. Olympia Snowe’s bombshell retirement announcement brought into focus the fault line within GOP ranks: Conservatives are demanding a sharper focus on bedrock principles, and party strategists are more concerned with courting swing voters. It is a fight that has raged inside the GOP since the rise of the tea party movement in 2009 — the “electability” vs. “real conservative” argument — and is also playing out in the nominating battle between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum (Raju and Bresnahan, 3/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Puts Members On Record For Or Against Obama Law Requiring Free Birth Control
The Senate is considering GOP legislation aimed at rolling back President Barack Obama’s policy on birth control coverage. At issue is a measure sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri that would allow employers and insurers to opt out of provisions in Obama’s health care law to which they object on religious or moral grounds. That includes the recently rewritten requirement that insurers cover the cost of birth control, even for religiously affiliated employers whose faith forbids contraception (3/1).

Politico: Mitt: I Misunderstood Blunt Bill Question
Mitt Romney moved quickly tonight to clean up the budding controversy over his interview with the Ohio News Network, in which he appeared to say he didn’t support the amendment in the Senate that would overturn President Obama’s contraception mandate. In a radio interview on the Howie Carr show, Romney said he merely misunderstood the question on what the ONN reporter referred to as the “Blunt-Rubio amendment” (Schultheis, 2/29).

The Washington Post: Romney Camp Says Candidate Supports Blunt Amendment On Contraceptive Coverage
One day after his big wins in Michigan and Arizona, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) found himself in the eye of a media storm Wednesday afternoon after his response to an Ohio reporter about a contraception-related Senate amendment began making the rounds. Romney’s camp clarified after the interview that the candidate supports Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) amendment, which is aimed at reversing the Obama administration’s policy requiring religious-affiliated institutions to provide health insurance that covers contraception (Sonmez, 2/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Schools Navigate State Birth-Control Patchwork
The Obama administration’s decision requiring that employers, including large Catholic institutions, provide contraception coverage without out-of-pocket costs in their insurance plans has prompted calls by bishops to overturn the regulation. The Senate is set to vote Thursday on a proposal to effectively reverse the decision. But there was less outcry when states first passed laws with similar requirements in the 1990s, according to legislators and some Catholic institutions (Radnofsky, 2/29).

The New York Times: A $250 Million Fraud Scheme Finds A Path To Brighton Beach
The plot involved 10 doctors, 9 separate clinics in New York City and 105 different corporations, all in service of a health care fraud ring that federal authorities say conspired to steal more than a quarter of a billion dollars from insurance companies. And when the details were announced on Wednesday, they cast an unflattering spotlight on how immigrants from the former Soviet Union have often dominated such schemes in the city (Rashbaum, 2/29).

Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield Seeks $10.5 Million In Damages From O.C. Doctor Group
The nonprofit insurer said Wednesday that it had filed a demand for binding arbitration with Monarch HealthCare of Irvine, the largest physician group in Orange County, which contracts with 2,300 independent doctors and serves 176,000 patients. Optum, a unit of Minneapolis-based UnitedHealth, acquired Monarch in November (Terhune, 3/1).

NPR: Federal Judge Rules Graphic Cigarette Labels Violate Constitution
Scary labels the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would require on cigarette packages later this year were nixed today (Hensley, 2/29).

The New York Times: U.S. Judge Strikes Down FDA Cigarette Labels
Judge Richard J. Leon of the United States District Court in Washington ruled that forcing the companies to use the labels, which show staged images like a man breathing smoke out of a tracheotomy hole in his neck and a mouth punctured with what appear to be cancerous lesions, violated their free speech rights under the First Amendment (Strom, 2/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Grisly Tobacco Labels Thrown Out By Judge
The summary judgment follows a preliminary ruling in November. At that time, Judge Leon issued a temporary injunction, adding that tobacco companies had demonstrated “a substantial likelihood” of winning the case on constitutional grounds. The government has appealed the November ruling, and some observers have predicted the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately could decide the matter (Esterl, 2/29).

The Wall Street Journal: California Cities Hit The Wall
Confronted by declining tax revenue and rising employee costs, Stockton, Calif., is considering bankruptcy—while several other struggling California cities warn they could eventually face the same predicament. … The law is a recognition that Chapter 9 bankruptcy wasn’t necessarily designed to handle municipal defaults, said Randall Newsome, a retired federal bankruptcy judge. Bankruptcy is painful for municipalities, he said, since it entails restructuring long-standing contracts. including retiree health-care benefits (White and Vara, 2/29).

USA Today: States Consider Drug Testing Welfare Recipients
Getting welfare and food stamps may become tougher as 23 states around the USA seek to adopt stricter laws that would require public aid recipients to take drug tests (Alcindor, 2/29).