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Endgame Lacks the Goal Posts

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is hoping to complete House business by Wednesday, but outstanding legislation may make her goal difficult to attain.

Though there are only three weeks left in 2009, the end is not yet in sight for Congress as Members seek to pack in as much legislation as possible before 2010 kicks off.

With time slipping away, Democratic aides on both sides of the Capitol say it’s increasingly possible that Congress will be in session between Christmas and New Year’s Day. After all, the Senate’s long slog on health care reform is likely to last at least into the week of Christmas, and both chambers are feeling an imperative to pass an outstanding Defense Department spending bill quickly. If Congress is in session the week after Christmas, however, Senate Democrats said it would likely be to deal with the Defense bill, which could take up substantial debate time given the controversy over the inclusion of a proposed $1.8 trillion increase to the federal debt limit.

Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reiterated Friday that he still believes he can pass a massive health care reform bill by Dec. 25, even as he accused Republicans of “throwing tantrums” and delaying progress on both health care and a mammoth appropriations measure that was expected to pass after press time Sunday.

Reid also expressed optimism that the Senate would not have to be in session after the Christmas holiday. “You asked me if I could complete everything by Christmas? I think the answer’s ‘yes,’” Reid said Friday.

But even Reid said earlier last week that the endgame on health care remained “a jump ball,” given he must wait for the Congressional Budget Office to complete an official cost estimate of a compromise he hopes will unite Democrats behind the package and allow him to begin the time-consuming procedural process that could lead to final passage.

Democratic aides have estimated that they need six to nine days to overcome several filibusters Republicans are likely to attempt. That means Reid must have a CBO score and, subsequently, a deal within his own caucus by the end of this week.

Given the tight time frame Senate Democrats are working under, several rank-and-file Senators said they have started to doubt whether Reid can wrap up the health care bill in the next week and a half.

Asked whether finishing before the holiday was feasible, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) quipped, “Christmas of which year?”

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