8 a.m. ET: If you're a Senate Democrat who supports health-care reform, which sounds worse: Having to stay in town to vote on Christmas Eve, or leaving for the holidays empty-handed? Both scenarios now appear possible, as Republican delaying tactics and one Democratic holdout have served to slow the process and put completion of a bill by Dec. 23 in doubt.
The latest hurdle came Wednesday, when Tom Coburn demanded that Bernie Sanders' 767-page amendment to create a single-payer system be read aloud on the Senate floor. The New York Times paints a dramatic picture: "On the 17th day of Senate debate on health legislation, it came down to this: A rock-ribbed conservative physician from Oklahoma squared off against a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont who was hoping for a full-throated debate on his proposal to establish a system of “Medicare for all.” After a few hours, Sanders withdrew his amendment in frustration. And in a sign of the partisan tension in the chamber, even that move was controversial. "Republicans accused Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin of being biased toward Democrats" because he allowed the amendment to be withdrawn, Roll Call reports, adding that the GOP argued such a move did not follow Senate precedents.
Ben Nelson, meanwhile, appears to be the last real Democratic holdout (though some liberals are still grumbling). Nelson continues to push for tougher restrictions on abortion funding, and negotiations are ongoing. "According to participants in the talks, the latest revision would seek to more clearly segregate public and private funds in new insurance exchanges for individuals who do not have access to affordable employer-based coverage," the Washington Post reports. And Nelson's complaints go beyond abortion; he also "voiced concerns about proposed taxes and cuts in Medicare payments to health-care providers," the Wall Street Journal writes. Perhaps he should talk to Nate Silver, who makes "my summation -- my elevator pitch for passing health care reform."
Despite those obstacles, "Democratic leaders made progress toward bringing their party in line and remained hopeful that they would pass the bill through the Senate by Christmas -- just barely," the Los Angeles Times writes. But Politico says "Harry Reid’s plan to pass the Senate health care reform bill by Christmas looked increasingly in doubt Wednesday," and "Senators privately considered one scenario Wednesday that would have them casting a final vote at 7 p.m. Christmas Eve. "
The dragged-out process appears to be having an effect on public opinion. The new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that "for the first time, more people said they would prefer Congress did nothing on health care than who wanted to see the overhaul enacted." John Dickerson writes: "The question is whether the president can be more successful in making the case for health care after it passes than beforehand. So far, the more he has talked about it, the worse reform has fared in the public mind and the worse the public has felt about his handling of the issue. ... The hope is that public opinion about health care reform might flip as quickly as it has since the president announced his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan."
The bad news for President Obama and Democrats goes beyond health care. The results also marked the first time this poll had Obama's approval rating below 50 percent, and it showed "the electorate was split when asked which party it wanted to see in charge after the 2010 elections" after a long period of Democratic dominance on that question. The survey found "an unusually grim view of the country's status and future prospects." Similarly, the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll found that "the public's gloominess about the economy continues, despite fresh indicators that the worst recession in generations may be over." (One contrarian report: "The latest Associated Press-Gfk poll shows the president's popularity holding steady, with 56 percent of those polled approving of the way he's taking care of the country's business.")
With that gloomy environment, the House adjourned for the year Wednesday without making firm decisions on issues that could make the public even more unhappy. "Democrats put off until next year some of the thorniest political issues facing the chamber," the Washington Post writes. That includes a long-term boost in the federal debt ceiling, a vote that would have cast a fresh spotlight on the nation's rising tide of red ink and put swing Democrats in a near-impossible position. The Hill writes that the vote set "the stage for a February showdown on deficit spending. It was not a popular measure with centrist and vulnerable lawmakers, who don’t want to be portrayed as allowing the nation to go deeper into debt." The House also passed "a $174 billion measure intended to create jobs was approved on a surprisingly close party-line vote of 217 to 212. The measure would redirect $75 billion from the Wall Street bailout fund to a variety of construction and employment programs, but no similar measure is expected to be considered in the Senate until next year," the New York Times reports.
In Copenhagen, the chances of a substantive agreement on climate change are looking slimmer. "China has told participants in the U.N.-sponsored climate talks that it cannot envision reaching an immediate, operational accord out of the negotiations here," the Washington Post reports. The Post adds, "Some environmentalists expressed hope that Obama's appearance Friday, the final day of the 12-day talks, could help end the two chaotic weeks on a successful note." Obama departs for the talks "facing global expectations that he can salvage an agreement on greenhouse gases as well as heavy domestic pressure not to sign a deal that could kill American jobs," the Los Angeles Times writes. But an Associated Press analysis exudes pessimism: "A warning to delegates in Copenhagen: If you're looking for President Barack Obama to cave to pressure and deepen U.S. efforts to curb greenhouse gases, don't bet on it. Obama, like most world leaders, is constrained by tough politics at home. And that makes it tougher for the summit to produce meaningful pollution cuts."
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