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Tom Howell Jr.

Tom Howell Jr.

Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at

Articles by Tom Howell Jr.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. **FILE**

Obamacare waivers present dilemma for administration

President Obama faces a major decision on Obamacare over the next year as states begin to apply for waivers to the sweeping law, pressuring the administration to either welcome or resist experimentation with his top domestic achievement. Published November 26, 2015

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the leading Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said that allowing politics to seep into the federal judicial system by slow-walking the president's court nominees would "create dangers for a generation to come." (Associated Press)

Obama judicial nominees in limbo as 'nuclear option' backfires on Democrats

The Republican-controlled Senate is confirming President Obama's judicial nominees this year at a slower pace than Democrats did after taking the Senate majority in 2007 under President George W. Bush, prompting court watchers to warn that politics is skewing the process. Published November 25, 2015

President Obama smiles during a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room at the White House on Nov. 24, 2015. (Associated Press)

About 1.6M have picked Obamacare plans so far, HHS reports

Roughly 1.6 million people have selected coverage on, the Obama administration said Wednesday in a snapshot of enrollment through the first three weeks of signups for the 2016 plan year. Published November 25, 2015

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin walks to a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, as Republican lawmakers prepare to push legislation through the House erecting fresh hurdles for Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to enter the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Conservatives urge GOP to hamstring Obamacare risk program

Over two dozen conservative groups asked GOP leaders Tuesday to make certain that a looming spending deal reins in a part of Obamacare designed to protect insurers during the overhaul's early -- and financially precarious -- rounds of enrollment. Published November 24, 2015

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) ** FILE **

Prescription drug abuse plagues U.S., stymies policymakers

More than half of all Americans say they or someone they know has abused prescription painkillers, according to a poll being released Tuesday that also found a significant share knew someone who died from opioid use. Published November 24, 2015

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Congress should reverse its vote in June to wind down the National Security Agency's "metadata" phone program, which collects the numbers, times and durations of all Americans' phone calls. "We need to rebuild that program. We need to rebuild the morale of our intelligence," he said.

GOP hopefuls pitch rejecting Syrians, NSA snooping, mosque surveillance to thwart terror

Republican presidential contenders outlined a series of strategies Sunday for thwarting terrorism — including dialing up U.S. snooping powers, repelling Syrian refugees and spying on U.S. mosques — even as the Homeland Security secretary said no credible threats of a Paris-style attack on U.S. soil exist and urged Congress instead to reform a visa waiver program that allows easy travel from Europe. Published November 22, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggests that he may retreat from a pledge to support the party's nominee if he is not "treated fairly." (Associated Press)

Trump stuns rivals with poll numbers, supports mosque surveillance and waterboarding

Flamboyant businessman Donald Trump basked Sunday in the glow of a poll that shows he is walloping his rivals in the Republican presidential field, elbowing his way into the anti-terrorism debate by proposing surveillance of certain mosques, condoning waterboarding and signaling that he is willing to retreat from a pledge he signed in September to forgo an independent run if he is not "treated fairly." Published November 22, 2015

"I think it is the time to move on," Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell told members of Enroll America, a nonprofit that drives customers into the Obamacare marketplace. (Associated Press)

Officials try to encourage confidence in Obamacare

The administration, seeking to boost confidence in Obamacare after a top insurer said it might exit the program within two years, is highlighting health plans that say they're "doing fine" in the emerging marketplace. Published November 22, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Eric Schultz)

Donald Trump evasive about GOP pledge to support nominee

Donald Trump hinted Sunday that he is willing to retreat from a pledge he signed in September to support the Republican nominee and forgo an independent run if he fails to grab the 2016 nomination. Published November 22, 2015

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell speaks at the Treasury Department in Washington on July 28, 2014. (Associated Press) ** FILE **

HHS says pricey prescription drugs are out of reach for many Americans

President Obama's top health official kicked off a summit on drug prices Friday by praising the pharmaceutical industry's knack for innovation while sounding the alarm over prescription prices that put new treatments out of reach for too many Americans. Published November 20, 2015

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks to the Catholic Hospital Association Conference at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2015.  Obama declared that his 5-year-old health care law is firmly established as the "reality" of health care in America, even as he awaits a Supreme Court ruling that could undermine it. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Nation's largest insurer may drop out of Obamacare, citing losses

The nation's largest insurer said Thursday it may drop out of Obamacare's exchanges within two years, adding to a particularly gloomy outlook for the law as it enters its third year of full operation with customers facing rising premiums and the collapse of most nonprofit co-ops. Published November 19, 2015

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., speaks after a press conference at a Planned Parenthood office in Portland, Ore., Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.  Wyden's support of Planned Parenthood comes amid a heated debate among Oregon politicians over how Planned Parenthood uses the $3.6 million it gets from Oregon.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Sen. Ron Wyden checks in on Obamacare innovation program

A leading Democratic senator asked the administration Thursday to update him on its efforts to implement a piece of Obamacare that allows states to waive parts of the law in 2017 if they find ways to outdo the federal health law in terms of the affordability and quality of coverage and how many people get insured. Published November 19, 2015

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, the website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington. A study out Wednesday finds that this year's most popular health law plans are raising premiums an average of 15 percent in 2016. You'll have to switch if you don't want to pay more.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

More than 1M have selected plans on Obamacare website

More than 1 million people selected health coverage on the federal Obamacare website through the second week of open enrollment, the administration said Wednesday in a snapshot that shows the number of plan selections nearly doubling since the first week's tally. Published November 18, 2015

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican, takes his seat on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 2, 2015. (Associated Press) **FILE**

House, Senate negotiators set to work on highway bill

House and Senate negotiators sat down Wednesday and pledged to hammer out their first multi-year highway bill in a decade, saying stopgap measures are failing motorists and businesses who contend with America's crumbling roads and infrastructure. Published November 18, 2015

Despite a failed attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act at the Senate level, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell insisted the GOP will find a way to undercut President Obama's signature health care law after Thanksgiving. The Senate's parliamentarian ruled the previous attempt didn't abide by legislative rules. (Associated Press)

GOP's efforts to overturn Obamacare stalling in Senate

The GOP's long-sought bid to dismantle Obamacare has hit another snag in the Senate, flustering House Republicans who thought they'd figured out a way to get a bill to President Obama's desk without having to face a Democratic filibuster. Published November 17, 2015