8 a.m. ET: It's all over but the shouting in the Senate, where Democrats are in the midst of clearing another procedural hurdle en route to final passage of a health-care bill.
The chamber will vote on another procedural motion Wednesday and then take a last tally on Christmas Eve, unless Republicans answer the silent prayers of poor little aides and reporters across the land and consent to an earlier vote. "Lacking the votes to block the bill, Republicans heaped scorn on the many concessions made to wavering Democrats in the quest to advance the package," the Washington Post writes, as the GOP attacked both those who received special treats in the bill (Chris Dodd) and those who didn't (Blanche Lincoln). Dana Milbank runs through the latest monikers for all the various sweeteners that were inluded in the bill, adding "Gator Aid" and "Handout Montana" to the legislative lexicon. Michael Steele was especially descriptive in his criticism, saying Congress was "flipping a bird to the American people." (Odds are someone is out there right now using Photoshop to illustrate Steele's comment.) The Las Vegas Sun says Harry Reid "has never been known as an inspiring public speaker. What Reid has always excelled at is cutting the deal. And the deal he struck on health care will be one for the history books."
The Los Angeles Times reports "Democrats looking to next year's midterm elections plan to market the bill as a way to help voters who are focused more on unemployment and the economy," though "a sour public mood may make matters tough for Democrats, whose comfortable congressional majority will be at risk. Recent polls have shown that voters are impatient with incumbents -- and that the economy is their overriding concern." Politico writes that Democratic senators will get a memo today from Mark Mellman explaining "that public polls are giving a distorted picture of the level of opposition to health-care reform. That’s because in many of these polls, 'opponents' include people who think the current proposals do not go far enough." The memo adds that reform can be popular if it is explained properly to the public, a big "if." Democrats already got one small piece of good news Monday: A new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll showed that approval for the Senate reofrm bill "has risen six points since early December," while Obama's approval has risen by the same amount. "Virtually all the increase in support for the Senate health care bill has come from Democrats, with a 10-point increase since early December," says CNN's Polling Director.
That survey pegged Obama's approval rating at 54 percent, though a new poll from American Research Group gave him just 47 percent, closer to Pollster.com's current average of 48.5 percent. Time says Obama's aides have been "alternately embracing and dismissing the polls," and suggests that if they're not worried about their boss's numbers now, they should be. Peter Wehner argues "few Democrats understand the depth and intensity of opposition that exists toward them and their agenda, especially regarding health care. Passage of this bill will only heighten the depth and intensity of the opposition. We’re seeing a political tsunami in the making, and passage of health-care legislation would only add to its size and force."
The reform measure got a key boost Monday from the American Medical Association. The endorsement came "after Reid made some last-minute changes to please the doctors. A 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery procedures was replaced with a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services; a proposed fee on physicians to enroll in Medicare was dropped; and payment cuts to specialty and other physicians to pay for bonuses to primary care doctors in underserved areas were also eliminated," the Associated Press writes. The Wall Street Journal details how the dermatologists' trade association convinced senators that the tanning tax was a better idea than the "Botax," much to the chagrin of the tanning salons' trade group. (Of course there is one; Alexis de Tocqueville would be proud.)
The Washington Post writes that Ben Nelson's abortion deal "has achieved a rare feat: It is drawing contempt from both sides." Looking ahead, the New York Times writes that abortion is "the issue that most complicates their drive to merge the Senate and House bills and send final legislation to President Obama," while noting that the two chambers also differ on the public option, taxing "Cadillac plans" versus a surcharge on the wealthy, and eligibility for the expansion of Medicaid. In case there's any doubt what will happen to the public option, Obama reiterated Monday that "it's not the most important aspect to this bill." The Wall Street Journal says "Democratic leaders are planning swift negotiations in January," while outlining some changes that will be sought by various groups: "The National Association of Home Builders, for instance, said it would fight to reverse a provision that would force some companies in the construction industry with five or more workers to pay fines if they don't offer health coverage. For companies in other industries, the threshold is 50 or more. And the American Hospital Association wants to tweak proposed penalties for hospitals that treat fewer uninsured people."
Jonathan Cohn examines the increasingly vocal complaints from the left: "It’s certainly true that, under the terms of the Senate bill, insurance would cost more and cover less than many of us would prefer. But would it really produce little social progress? Is it really worse than nothing?" He concludes that "we should also recognize the Senate bill for what it is: A measure that will make people's lives significantly better. Surely that's worth a little enthusiasm." Nate Silver explains why passing a reform bill via reconciliation, the preferred alternative for many liberals, simply won't happen. And he says reconciliation has become "a convenient excuse not to have to commit to the question of whether the Senate's bill really is worse than the status quo, and a vehicle to direct one's anger at the White House, Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and the rest of the usual suspects, instead of getting beyond it and working to facilitate the best policy."
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