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April 9, 2014

Doctors who take Medicare patients are just like the rest of society: The top 2 percent rake in the lion's share of the money, earning almost exactly the same amount as the bottom 75 percent. The top 1 percent alone takes about 14 percent of the pie. We know this because of detailed records released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on 880,000 doctors who received a total of $77 billion in 2012. Via The New York Times, here's how that money is distributed among physicians:

A single Florida ophthalmologist, Salomon Melgen, earned $20.8 million in Medicare payments in 2012, and nine other doctors brought in more than $10 million. Melgen, whose office the FBI raided in January 2013, is best known for political donations to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and lots of prominent Florida politicians. (Melgen maintains he did nothing wrong.) The New York Times has a searchable database if you're interested in how much your doctor is reimbursed by Medicare.

Why are we only getting this data now? The American Medical Association won a court injunction in 1979 to prevent the release of doctor-specific Medicare billing information. After a federal judge vacated that order in 2013, the AMA declined to challenge the ruling. The Wall Street Journal, which offers a more detailed history of that fight, also has this chart showing how much each type of specialist typically earns each year:

Every fiscal cycle Congress passes a "doc fix," which eases cuts in Medicare payments automatically scheduled under 1997 legislation designed to tame the budget deficit. (The latest "doc fix" was passed about a week ago.) Maybe this information will give lawmakers the tools to better target those cuts. Peter Weber

5:23 p.m. ET
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Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner offered up some truly innovative explanations for global warming at an event for natural gas advocates in Harrisburg on Tuesday. Wagner, a Republican state senator, suggested at one point during his keynote address that humans' "warm bodies" could be responsible for the Earth's rising temperatures. "We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies," Wagner said. "So is heat coming off?"

Later, after admitting he hadn't "been in a science class in a long time," Wagner hypothesized that global warming could also be due to the Earth's rotation. "...[T]he Earth moves closer to the sun every year — you know, the rotation of the Earth," Wagner said. "We're moving closer to the sun."

If Wagner were to return to a science class, he might be surprised to discover that the Earth's rotation happens daily, not annually, and that the Earth's proximity to the sun doesn't necessarily result in warmer temperatures. In fact, Huffington Post noted "the United States and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere experience winter when the Earth's yearly orbit brings it closest to the sun."

Wagner later clarified in a statement issued by his spokeswoman that he does believe in climate change and that he thinks "some of that change is certainly manmade." He did not, however, mention scientists' main culprit for global warming: greenhouse gases. Becca Stanek

4:51 p.m. ET
Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

First daughter Ivanka Trump is ditching her plans to serve as an informal adviser to her father President Trump and will instead become an official government employee, The New York Times reported Wednesday. Trump's title will be assistant to the president, and she will not be paid.

Trump, who already has her own office in the West Wing, said she changed her plans after ethics experts raised concerns about the arrangement. "I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees," Trump said in a statement Wednesday.

Trump's lawyer also noted she will "file the financial disclosure forms required of federal employees." Becca Stanek

3:38 p.m. ET
Screenshot/CBS News

The Senate Intelligence Committee has devoted seven full-time staff members to the ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia's interference in the presidential election, committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) announced Wednesday. Burr, noting the investigation is "one of the biggest" he's seen in his time on Capitol Hill, said the individuals have been looking at an "unprecedented amount" of intelligence documents.

The committee has had conversations with "a lot of people," Burr indicated, including ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. "To date, we have made 20 requests for individuals to be interviewed by the committee," Burr said. He noted the committee would be "willing to issue subpoenas."

When asked if there was evidence yet of any "direct links" between President Trump and Russia, Burr acknowledged the committee's "challenge is to answer that question for the American people."

Burr said the review should be completed "within weeks." Becca Stanek

2:07 p.m. ET

President Trump's abysmally low approval rating just got even lower. Gallup's latest poll released Wednesday found that now just 35 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing — a historic low for a president at this stage of his term. Fifty-nine percent disapprove of Trump's performance.

This marks the second time this week that Trump's approval rating has dipped to a new low for him. After Republicans' health-care fiasco Friday, Trump's approval rating plummeted to 36 percent Monday, Gallup found — but apparently the downhill slide wasn't over yet.

Political Capital offered some context for just how bad Trump's 35 percent approval rating actually is. Apparently former President Richard Nixon held a higher approval rating during the Watergate hearings than Trump does right now:

The daily tracking poll surveyed approximately 1,500 adults by phone, and the results are based on a three-day rolling average. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Becca Stanek

1:03 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated that the Trump administration will revisit health care following the bruising failure of the Republican replacement bill last week.

Trump "talked about repealing and replacing," Spicer explained. "It's a commitment he made. He'd like to get it done."

Spicer dismissed Trump's comments about the ease of replacing Affordable Care Act as being "a lighthearted moment" and added that health care is an "ongoing discussion" for the White House. Either way, Republican health-care efforts will likely be temporarily abandoned as the party turns its attention to the budget and tax reforms. Jeva Lange

12:55 p.m. ET

In response to the outrage surrounding Bill O'Reilly's racist and sexist joke Tuesday — in which the Fox News host referred to Rep. Maxine Waters' (D-Calif.) hair as a "James Brown wig" — former Trump campaign adviser and congressman Jack Kingston took to CNN on Wednesday morning to defend O'Reilly. While speaking to host Chris Cuomo, Kingston claimed Washington politicians have "earned" the right to "humor and silliness."

"People make fun of Donald Trump all the time. They call him 'carrot top.' They say his whole skin is orange. They accuse him of all kinds of things," Kingston said to Cuomo during a debate with Jennifer Psaki, a former spokesman for former President Barack Obama. "It seems to me there is a double standard when somebody from the right is being criticized."

Continuing his defense, Kingston said, "What I don't like is the left always runs and clutches, 'Oh I'm a woman, don't say anything bad about me.' Or, 'I belong to a certain race.' It seems like it's always that card that's played."

On Tuesday, Waters herself responded to O'Reilly's comments, saying: "I'm a strong black woman and I cannot be intimidated." Psaki also fired back in the debate with Kingston, saying, "I don't think sexism is a partisan thing." Watch the segment below. Sarah Weldon

12:31 p.m. ET

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called on reporter April Ryan for his first question Wednesday, following a widely criticized exchange Tuesday in which Spicer scolded Ryan for shaking her head at him. If Spicer's gesture was an attempt to make nice, it didn't exactly work:

Many people slammed Spicer for the way he spoke to Ryan on Tuesday, including Hillary Clinton. "Too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride," Clinton said Tuesday while speaking at the Professional Business Women of California annual conference. Jeva Lange

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