Happy Hour Roundup

July 1

• The National Journal has discovered something unsettling:

It’s going to be a little more difficult to ferret out which members of Congress are lavished with all-expenses-paid trips around the world after the House has quietly stripped away the requirement that such privately sponsored travel be included on lawmakers’ annual financial-disclosure forms.

The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings.

Sometimes there are good reasons for members of Congress to take a trip somewhere. But there are a lot of luxury junkets with a thin veil of policy justification laid on top of it. And even though most members of Congress are basically honest, this kind of thing just stinks. Hopefully, they’ll be embarrassed into becoming more transparent.

• There was some question as to whether the Hobby Lobby ruling allowed companies to refuse to cover all forms of contraception, or just the few forms that Hobby Lobby objected to in the mistaken belief that they were tantamount to abortion. Today the Court clarified: Companies can refuse to allow their health insurance to cover any and all forms of contraception.

• Brian Beutler gets his hands on a proposal from the Center for American Progress to undo Hobby Lobby by amending the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Soon to be a piece of Democratic legislation, no doubt.

• Over at the American Prospect, I looked at the 15 most important decisions the Supreme Court delivered in this term.

•  Here’s your depressing congressional report of the day, from USA Today:

Since Republicans took control of the U.S. House in January 2011, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has led a cost-cutting effort that has trimmed staff for House committees by nearly 20%, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. But the number of committee staff responsible for press and communications work has increased by nearly 15% over the same period, according to House spending records.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems that in that time Republicans haven’t gotten much out of their investment of taxpayer dollars in communication.

• Another state falls: A federal judge struck down Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage today.

• Uwe Reinhardt agrees with me that we should get rid of employer-sponsored health coverage, but he does it with snappier analogies.

• Guess who still thinks he should be prime minister of Iraq? Ahmed Chalabi, for pete’s sake. Well, if Cheney’s back. . . .

• Ross Douthat has some interesting thoughts on whether liberals are sore winners in the culture wars.

• PPP has a pair of tight polls today: If Mary Landrieu (D-La.) can’t make it past 50 percent and has to face a runoff against Bill Cassidy, voters split 47-47, and the Michigan race between Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Mark Schauer is tied 40-40.

• And finally, have you been saying to yourself, “I’ve read plenty of articles about the Hobby Lobby case, but what I really need is to watch a movie about it. And not just any movie — a movie produced by Rick Santorum”? Well, you’re in luck, because the production company Santorum runs will be coming out with a movie about the case on Sept. 1.

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Paul Waldman | July 1