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This Week In Congress - December 18, 2009

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I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson of Capitol News Connection. This Week in Congress...

This week the political dynamics of the Senate health care debate centered very much on one man: Senator Joe Lieberman.

LIEBERMAN: When advocates for the public option saw that they didn’t have the votes for the public option, they kinda tried to get it down another path.

That other path was a Medicare buy-in. Lieberman secured the demise of both. No sooner did Democrats manage to win him over (for the time being anyway), than other bricks came loose from the impenetrable wall of 60 votes that Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to assemble. A handful of Democrats want stronger anti-abortion language, and have other objections to the content of the bill. Moderate Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine remained question-marks, also.

COLLINS: This bill is getting better but still too deeply flawed for me to support it.

At this point, however, actual policy is a lot less important to the fate of the Senate health care bill than arcane procedure. The closer Democrats get to a version that is sufficiently watered-down – or one might say, "negotiated" – to secure 60 votes, the more important it is for Republicans to run out the clock.

Which is why things like this happen, as it did on Wednesday, when Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn refused to waive the reading of an amendment.

Senate rules are designed to force lawmakers to practice politics as the art of the possible. Procedure gives each individual a lot of power. So deals have to be made. As a result, it’s always a fine line between pragmatism and capitulation. And every Senator’s line is different. From South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham...

GRAHAM: This idea of reforming health care has now given way to the idea of passing anything.

To Pennsylvania now-Democrat Arlen Specter, who had good things to say this week about the concessions being made.

SPECTER: If we can come together, that’s democracy, that’s compromise. That’s the way this town is supposed to work and hasn’t for a very long time.

Over in the House, Democratic leaders wrapped up 2009 by passing an additional jobs bill – with new spending on transportation and infrastructure projects, and direct assistance to states and localities to keep teachers, police and fire fighters on the payroll. For those who already lost jobs, the House also extended unemployment and COBRA health insurance benefits.

On Thursday, Republican Senators took a break from the marathon health care tussle to remind the Obama Administration that promises made at certain global climate change talks still have to be ratified by Congress. Minority Whip, Jon Kyl...

KYL: The President does not have the authority to bind the U.S. to any international agreement, in Copenhagen or anywhere else.

Republicans promise a ‘resolution’ in the New Year, to block recent gains by the administration in areas of environmental and climate protection. They say some Democrats are willing to join them.

The week ends with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sounding a now-familiar alarm. Awaiting the appearance of the ghost of Congress Present.

McCONNELL: This will be a bill that none of my constituents have seen, that none of the Majority’s constituents have seen, that none of you have seen, and that nobody outside the Capitol has seen.

Illinois Democrat and Majority Whip Dick Durbin disputed the premise, and went on to add a personal note:

DURBIN: I don’t like this. You know, you give up a lot in this job but you think, there are certain pieces of my family life that I hold dear, and this is one of them. To be back home for Christmas--not just at the last minute but to BE there. And it doesn’t look like I will be able to.

That was This Week in Congress. I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.

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