THE SOTU DEADLINE…. If all goes according to plan, by this time tomorrow, the Senate will have passed a sweeping health care reform bill on a 60 to 40 vote. Soon after, members will make a beeline for the airport, with no plans to return for about three weeks.

There is, however, the matter of when the final health care bill can/will be approved and sent to the White House for President Obama’s signature. Everyone involved suggests they’d really like to see this wrapped up before the State of the Union address, which will probably be delivered on Jan. 26 or Feb. 2.

That may, however, be a tall order. As Mike Allen noted this morning, the House won’t reconvene until Jan. 12, and the Senate doesn’t return until six days later. Appointing members to the conference committee takes votes, and after participants work out their differences, waiting for a CBO score may take another week.

In effect, the conference committee would have to work out a satisfactory deal over the course of a day or two if they intend to meet the SOTU deadline.

It’s why lawmakers may opt to skip the conference committee altogether, preferring a ping-pong approach that’s been talked about quite a bit lately.

The reconciliation of the two bills is expected to take place in January, with the aim of sending a bill to the White House for President Obama’s signature before he delivers his first State of the Union address. Instead of negotiating in a formal conference committee, senior Democratic aides in both chambers said they expect to hash out a bill in informal negotiations, push it through the House and send it back to the Senate for final approval, a strategy that would give them broad flexibility to rewrite policy provisions in search of a compromise.

That would at least have the advantage of efficiency, and it might still make the SOTU deadline feasible. Something to keep an eye on.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.