DAYBREAK DAILY: Virginia GOP underscores opposition to Medicaid expansion

ABC7 WEATHER: Snow early then mixing with sleet and rain with highs in the low 30s.

‘GOOD MORNING WASHINGTON’: Among the reports – Updates on all the snow that fell while you were sleeping. We've got the whole region covered with reporters: Kevin Lewis TV is in Gaithersburg, Hatzel Vela is in Dupont Circle, Brianne Carter is in Leesburg and John Gonzalez is in Frederick; much more, beginning at 4:30 a.m. M-F.

NOT BUDGING: Just saying no to Medicaid expansion, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “House Republicans on Wednesday underscored that they will not cave in their opposition to an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program that could cover up to an additional 400,000 Virginians. “It would be incredibly foolish for the commonwealth to move forward with this,” said Speaker of the House William J. Howell, R-Stafford.

“He spoke at a news conference at the state Capitol, where members of the House GOP leadership took inventory of passed legislation as of Tuesday’s crossover, which marks the middle of the General Assembly session. “There are 67 of us, and I think the vast majority agrees with this position,” Howell said of House Republicans. “It is just beyond me why a business person can look at the numbers and want to go forward.”

THE MARYLAND MUDDLE: To what end?, per the Baltimore Sun, “Two Republican lawmakers called Wednesday for an investigation into federal money spent on Maryland's troubled health insurance exchange, raising questions that could shed light on whether the Obama administration foresaw problems with the site before its launch. In a letter to the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Reps. Andy Harris of Maryland and Jack Kingston of Georgia ask auditors to review why millions of federal dollars flowed into the project despite warnings from a consultant about problems.

“Though the letter is focused on decisions made by state officials, an audit — if one materializes — would also delve into decisions made by the federal health agency. Health and Human Services officials have declined to say whether they knew of the Maryland site's problems early on. The state's health exchange crashed Oct. 1, the day it launched. State officials attributed the problem to technical glitches, but email and other documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun showed that the development of the exchange had been troubled for months by major technical issues and warring contractors.”

MEANWHILE: Good news for Obamacare, per the Washington Post, “For the first time since the federal and state health-insurance marketplaces opened early last fall, the number of people who signed up for coverage exceeded the government’s expectations for the month in January, bringing the overall total to about 3.3 million. Across the country, nearly 1.2 million people enrolled in health plans last month through the new insurance exchanges — more than federal officials had envisioned when they compiled monthly targets late last summer, weeks before the sign-ups began.

“The figure is part of a detailed report issued Wednesday by the Obama administration, providing the latest look at how the effort to extend health insurance to more Americans is faring. The report suggests that January was the first month in which enrollment was not dampened by serious computer defects, which initially stymied people trying to use the federal online marketplace,, and some of the 14 similar marketplaces run by states.”

VETERANS WIN: This battle was different, per the Virginian-Pilot, “Congress pulled back Wednesday from its decision two months ago to reduce cost-of-living pension increases for working-age military retirees. Veterans groups deluged legislators with complaints after Congress voted in December for the change, a tiny part of a large budget deal.

“Legislation reinstating the increase easily passed the House 326-90 on Tuesday, and the Senate 95-3 on Wednesday. It now goes to President Barack Obama. The effort would cost more than $6 billion over 10 years and would be paid for by cuts to Medicare a decade from now. The bill adds another year to the Medicare portion of a decade-long set of automatic cuts, known as sequestration, that began last year.”

SITUATION SYRIA: Of Iraqi prison escapees, per the New York Times, “A series of daring but little noticed breakouts from Iraqi prisons has freed hundreds of hardened militants who are now among the leaders and foot soldiers of the radical Sunni groups operating in neighboring Syria and, increasingly, in Iraq itself.

“The role of the former inmates in fueling a new wave of Sunni jihad across the region is an unfortunate reminder of the breakdown of authority in Iraq since the United States departed in 2011, of the security vacuum that has spread around the region and of the continuing threat of Sunni-led terrorist groups that the United States said it was fighting during its occupation of Iraq.”

CABLE MERGER: A big one, per the Associated Press, “Comcast Corp. has agreed to buy Time Warner Cable Inc. for $45.2 billion in stock, or $158.82 per share, two people familiar with the matter said late Wednesday. The deal will combine the nation's top two cable TV companies and make Comcast, which also owns NBCUniversal, a dominant force in both creating and delivering entertainment to U.S. homes.

“The deal was approved by the boards of both companies and, pending regulatory approval, is expected to close by the end of the year, the people said. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced formally. An announcement is set for Thursday morning, they said.”

DEBT CEILING: Senate ends debate, per The Hill, “The Senate sent a bill hiking the debt ceiling to President Obama’s desk on Wednesday, but only after a dramatic fight that forced GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to cast a surprise vote advancing the legislation. McConnell and top lieutenant Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) reluctantly backed ending debate after it became clear that no one in their conference wanted to cast the deciding 60th vote.

“Sixty votes were needed to overcome a filibuster by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who complained that Congress was raising the debt ceiling without demanding any curbs on Washington’s spending. With the upper chamber’s Democrats and Independents all voting yes, Senate Republicans needed to muster five votes to overcome Cruz.”

POLITICO PLAY: “Polls show Hillary Rodham Clinton drawing support far above any other prospective Democratic or Republican presidential candidate in 2016. The most experienced campaign operatives in the business are jostling to be by her side if she decides to run. Time magazine asks, “Can anyone beat Hillary?” At first blush, the world’s most famous woman projects an air of invincibility.

“And yet: An avalanche of coverage prompted by the relatively obscure Washington Free Beacon — which scored an impressive scoop by exploring a cache of papers with a mix of gossipy and revealing insights into her personality and marriage in the 1990s — highlighted a Clinton paradox. Her ability to dominate the national political conversation is nearly as much liability as asset, since the obsessive interest about her character, her past, and her future intentions leaves her acutely vulnerable to publicity storms that can hijack her public image and swamp her plans to carefully manage her reentry into public life.”

THE BIG EASY: Now it’s time for the big house, per the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Ray Nagin was the business executive who swept into City Hall on promises of reforming how government does business, only to see those ideas disintegrate. He was the face of the city after Hurricane Katrina, shouting anguished distress calls to the world, seeming urgent but also at times unhinged. He was the nontraditional politician who corralled support across racial groups and then turned divisive with an awkward attempt at welcoming back storm-displaced African Americans to a "chocolate city."

"Nagin was the first New Orleans mayor indicted and tried on federal charges for corruption. On Wednesday, he was the first to be convicted. Jurors overwhelmingly agreed with the prosecution's narrative in finding him guilty on 20 of 21 charges: Nagin sold his office for personal gain.”

D.C. ACCOUNTABILITY: Or something like that, per City Paper, “When the District’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability released an opinion on how the D.C. Council provides constituent service last August, At-Large Councilmember David Grosso was pleased. He even sent them a thank-you note. (Get this guy some hobbies, LL says.) But when Grosso went to a Council breakfast the next month where the new opinion was discussed, he found that his colleagues weren’t as thrilled as he was.

“I got to thinking that I had to think a little bit harder about what the heck was going on there,” Grosso says. The opinion, inspired by a 2012 incident where At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange had allegedly tried to prevent health inspectors from closing a wholesale grocer, came with a host of advice for councilmembers looking to do a favor for constituents. Councilmembers should avoid making any requests to anyone with less power than they have, the board said, and if there was any doubt, they should ask the board’s advice.”

BLACKSBURG MURDER: Latest details, per the Roanoke Times, “Virginia Tech students Samanata Shrestha (from Northern Virginia) and Jessica Ewing were close friends who got into a fight over the weekend, days before Shrestha’s body was discovered, according to search warrants filed Wednesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

"Before Ewing was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, she told several people that she had “done something terrible,” according to the warrants. One female, identified only as Natalie in the documents, told police that Ewing said to her: “If I tell you what I did last night, will you still love me?” Natalie said Ewing then added, “I killed that girl.”

DROP IN: Not out, per Gazette.Net, “For the first time in four years, the dropout rate in Prince George’s County Public Schools has declined, although it still lags behind most other Maryland school districts. In Prince George’s, the dropout rate declined from 19.53 percent in 2012 to 18.5 percent in 2013 while the graduation rate increased from 72.87 percent in 2012 to 74.12 percent in 2013.”

THE MARSHALL PLAN: As in Bob’s plan, per the Loudoun Times-Mirror, “Conservative firebrand Bob Marshall, a Virginia state delegate representing Prince William County, has joined the crowded field of Republicans seeking the nomination to replace Congressman Frank Wolf. An anti-tax, outspoken social conservative, Mr. Marshall has a lengthy history of news-making comments in reference to the LGBT community, abortion, rape and disabled children. He's served in the House of Delegates for more than 20 years.

“Mr. Marhsall will be contested by state state Del. Barbara Comstock, who many consider the front-runner; Stephen Hollingshead, a former advisor in the Bush administration and former chief operating officer for Americans for Prosperity; Richard Shickle, chairman of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors; Marc Savitt, a mortgage broker and president of the National Association of Independent Housing Professionals; Tareq Salahi, best known for crashing a White House party; Rob Wasinger; Brent Anderson; and Howie Lind, former chairman of the 10th Congressional District Republican Committee who recently vacated this year's U.S. Senate contest.”

FRACKING: And its impact, per the Frederick News-Post, “An assessment released Wednesday by an environmental group concluded natural gas drilling in Western Maryland comes with a high risk of contaminating groundwater and surface water, causing air pollution and consuming land.

“The study, commissioned by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Citizen Shale, examined 10 potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” For critics of the drilling process, the findings provide backing for Sen. Ron Young’s proposal to place a temporary stay on fracking until lawmakers understand the potential hazards.”

SPORTS, BRIEFLY: Wizards lose 113-112 against Houston.

TRENDING ON ABC7 FACEBOOK: “Maryland is considering banning minors from buying energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull. The legislation, introduced by Del. Kathleen Dumais of Montgomery County, follows the December 2011 death of 14-year-old Anais Fournier, who died from cardiac arrhythmia after consuming two 24-ounce cans of Monster Energy. But the measure isn't without its critics, who would prefer not to have to monitor purchases.”

NEWSTALK: 10 a.m., NewsChannel 8.

--Skip Wood