The Christmas timeline

THE CHRISTMAS TIMELINE…. There have been plenty of deadlines for the health care reform bill, all of them missed. The bill was to be done before the August recess. Then Labor Day. Then Thanksgiving.

The current schedule lawmakers have in mind is to have the Senate pass its bill by Christmas, with signed legislation complete before the State of the Union address in January. As of yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that timeline is still in place, and a Senate bill will clear the chamber next week. (Christmas, for those of you keeping track, is a week from Friday — 10 days from today.)

It’s probably worth pausing to consider two questions: 1) why the Christmas deadline matters; and 2) whether this is actually going to come together.

Ezra had a good summary on the first point.

The argument is that big bills rarely fail in a dramatic vote. They bleed to death slowly, wasting away amid a procession of delays and procedural setbacks. The longer a health-care reform bill takes, the less likely it is to pass.

Worse, the longer health-care reform takes, the longer it is until Democrats can shift the spotlight back to jobs and the economy. The Obama administration wants to use the State of the Union as a turning point. Health-care reform would be the shining first year accomplishment, allowing the president to begin the election-year pivot to jobs and the economy and the deficit.

Agreed. If the Senate is still debating the bill in January, it’s that much more likely to fail.

As for whether a bill that was teetering on the verge of death yesterday can pass the Senate in 10 days, Reid and the Democratic leadership will have no margin for error. Keep in mind, when Republicans filibuster, it not only creates a 60-vote requirement, it also delays the post-cloture vote by 30 hours. In this case, Reid has to craft a “manager’s amendment” to reflect all of the various changes, hold a vote on it, then overcome a GOP filibuster on the bill, then get a final floor vote.

All the while, the leadership has to make sure Lieberman doesn’t find new things to complain about, keep Ben Nelson from blocking the bill over indirect abortion subsidies, and keep sounding out Snowe and Collins.

It’s doable, but threading this needle is no small task.

As for the notion of “ping-ponging,” and skipping the conference committee, the likelihood of this happening is now close to zero — in light of the new concessions to Lieberman, House Dems want a discussion about this bill.