* The top story tonight: The budget deal appears to be on the fast track for passage through the Senate, with six Republicans now promising support (remember, the filibuster is still around for legislation). Orrin Hatch offers an interesting reason why:

“Hatch, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he is acting out of a realization that Republicans do not currently control the White House or Senate.”

It would be nice if he could pass along this startling news to his colleagues in the House.

* A federal judge has ruled that the NSA’s mass collection of phone records is likely unconstitutional. The grounds, of course, are the Fourth Amendment, which if you’ll recall includes this stipulation: “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

There’s a good chance this will end up before the Supreme Court.

* Strange news on Iran sanctions, which are being held up by the most Senate-y reason ever discovered:

Though many senators have made public demands for new sanctions on Iran, the effort in the chamber has been fractured by an apparent committee turf war and members offering competing proposals.

That would be some poetic justice, but I fear they’ll sort it out eventually.

* Nice point from EJ Dionne: politicians talk a good game about how families are the source of all that is good, but provide basically nothing in the way of tangible support for them. Republicans’ beloved cuts to social insurance very often involve slashing benefits that help marginal families. Maybe we can enlist Megyn Kelly as a pro-family spokesperson?

* Good report from Jeff Spross about the bipartisan group working on cutting back the corn-based ethanol mandate. As I’ve said, it’s past time to cut our losses on this one.

* When it comes to Obamacare and sorting out whose predictions are best, Krugman says: follow the money. Big insurers have invested hugely in the system working out, which provides some hefty momentum to fix problems rather than scrap everything and start over.

* Great, due to poverty and poor sanitation, tropical diseases are making a comeback in the United States! I suggest we change the name from “Chagas disease” to “Freedom Parasites.” After all, what’s a little acute damage to the autonomic nervous system when we’re talking about being free from Big Government interference? Megacolon is a small price to pay for liberty.

* Marijuana legalization is saving millions of dollars in Colorado. People tend to forget that the criminal justice bureaucracy is staggeringly expensive, which is why some conservative reformers have come out in favor of cutting back America’s prison state. People also forget that alcohol prohibition was repealed in large part because of desperate government need for tax revenue.

* Good piece from Kathleen Geier taking a detailed look at just how horrible unemployment is for people. When one’s entire society operates around having a job — where it’s the source of both a basic baseline of physical, emotional and mental security — not being able to get one is just awful.

* Will the new Chase settlement on Madoff crimes against let most people off the hook? If the government ever wants to stop these repeated settlements, some banker is going to have to go to jail for breaking the law.

* Jared Bernstein’s new paper on inequality is definitely worth a read.

* And a great Christmas slideshow from The Atlantic.