Senate Democrats threaten to hold health-care vote on Christmas

By Dana Milbank
Friday, December 18, 2009

Ho, ho -- oh, no!

For weeks -- months, really -- Republicans have stalled health-care legislation in the Senate. But now Democrats have come up with a formidable weapon: They are threatening to steal Christmas. And Republicans would give large sums of frankincense and myrrh to keep that from happening.

The threat dribbled out Thursday morning in the form of rumors and whispers emanating from Majority Leader Harry Reid's office. If Republicans continued their delays, Democrats vowed, a vote on the health-care bill would be scheduled for 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Then the Senate majority whip, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), went to the Senate floor and raised the possibility of Christmas Day being spent at the Capitol. "If it costs us Christmas Eve, or costs us Christmas Day or even more, we cannot let the people of this country down," he told his colleagues.

It was the advent of advent brinkmanship: Pass health-care reform, or have a blue Christmas. Lawmakers, after all, would rather spend Christmas in a manger than in the Senate cloakroom.

Out on the chamber floor there arose such a clatter. Republicans sprang to their feet to say what was the matter. "They want to rush this bill through by Christmas?" asked Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "They want to rush this bill through by Christmas," he answered himself.

"Apparently we are going to have some kind of vote on Christmas Eve or something like that," reported Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"They want to jam the public before Christmas," repeated McConnell, still wrapping his mind around the concept. "How arrogant is that?"

Not to mention un-Christian!

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) shared in the outrage. "They want to run it through before Christmas!" he marveled.

McCain was getting more worked up. "We will see jammed-through-on-Christmas Eve legislation that will have the most far-reaching effects and devastating effects," he judged.

Left out of this protest was any acknowledgment of why the Democrats were ramming and rushing and jamming the bill through on a holiday: Republicans had made it impossible to do anything earlier. On Wednesday, the entire chamber came to a standstill for three hours while Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) forced the clerks to read aloud legislative gobbledygook about "subparagraph (D)(ii)" and "section 1861(ff)(2)(E)" and "standards described in section 1902(a)(31)(A) of such act (as so in effect)."

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