No Room For Error If Senate To Pass Health Care Before Christmas

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With no bill or CBO score in hand, a maximum of 57 committed “yes” votes when he needs 60, and 90 to 100 hours of procedural down time ahead of him before he can finally hold an up-or-down, majority-rules vote on health care, it seems virtually impossible that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be able to pass a reform bill by Christmas.

But Senate leadership aides say it could happen, if everything goes according to plan.

Early this morning–in a rare 1 a.m. vote–Democrats invoked cloture on a defense spending bill. Unless Republicans cede back some time, Senate rules allow them to eat up 30 hours debating that bill before it can pass…at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. Then it’s back to health care.

“Following passage of the DoD bill, Reid would file cloture on the manager’s amendment, substitute amendment and the underlying bill on health care,” reads an outline provided yesterday afternoon by a senior Senate aide. “This would set up the first cloture vote on the manager’s amendment on Monday morning at 1 am.”

The second cloture vote on the substitute amendment would be Tuesday at 7 am. And, the cloture vote on the underlying bill would be Wednesday at around 1 pm.

We could get an agreement to wrap up and have a final passage vote on the 23rd, however Republicans could continue to not cooperate and force us to have a vote on final passage on Christmas Eve.

The scientific term for this scenario is “tight squeeze.” Last night, the whole plan nearly fell apart when Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) threatened to join the GOP filibuster of the defense spending bill. He came around at the last minute. “I do not support the defense funding bill and I will vote against it,” reads Feingold’s official statement. “But I am not going to be part of a partisan and cynical effort to delay passage of the defense bill in order to block the Senate from considering health care reform. I will decide how to vote on health care when the final bill is before the Senate. But the Senate should be allowed to continue debating and voting on health care reform legislation.”

Now all Reid needs to do is not let any procedural hurdles trip him up, keep the unions quiet, tamp down a brewing revolt from the online left, deal with Howard Dean, and get assurances–privately or publicly–from the remaining holdouts. Then it’s Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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