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A Christmas Carol

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But no, it’s not likely that even the great man is going to be able to bring health care reform legislation to President Obama’s desk by Christmas.

The man that history has picked to be Santa in this particular case doesn’t look the part in any obvious way. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a tall, thin Mormon from Nevada, not a stout ruddy deliveryman from north of the Arctic Circle.

But even if Reid was blessed with Santa’s perennially amazing ability to get ready in one month’s time span the wishes and desires of millions upon millions of fervent believers, he still would have a major problem and one that would stump even Santa himself: Reid has to deal with 99 other senators, each of whom thinks he or she should be the one delivering all those goodies, or else be the one who gets to decide who’s naughty and therefore shouldn’t receive anything at all.

And let’s not forget that within the hallowed chamber of the Senate, like something out of a Dickensian nightmare, reside not one but a whole crowd of Ebenezer Scrooges whose response to Santa’s wanting to brighten the spirits of millions of uninsureds is a resounding “Bah, humbug!”

These Scrooges not only have the ability to drive an entire country full of poor Tiny Tims to distraction, but some are also actively plotting to tie Santa up in knots so badly that there is no chance whatsoever that he will be able to deliver the presents for which so many have been yearning for the last year, if not much, much longer.

The problem for Reid is that if he can’t convince at least 60 of his fellow senators how important it is to get the raw material for the presents out of the storeroom and into the workshop, he’s going to miss the very slim window of opportunity between Congress’s Thanksgiving recess and its Christmas recess. In that case, he’ll never be able to deliver the package to President Obama in time for the holiday celebration.

But almost as daunting as getting the raw materials into the workshop is getting a finished product to put into the sleigh. There are plenty of obstacles and slippery ice every step of the way.

First of all, those senatorial Scrooges will have unlimited opportunity to take their whacks at the unfinished product as it is being crafted. And once they’ve finished working it over (if they do), then whatever remains has to be taken by Reid to an interim area where the sometimes mischievous elves from the House will try their hand at refashioning what the Senate has given a pounding, hoping to change it so that President Obama will get more of what he really wants for Christmas.

Then the thing has to be carted back to both the Senate and the House and put on display for all to see and decide if that’s what they want, after all.

So you can see the deck is pretty stacked against Santa’s being able to deliver by Christmas. The danger is that even if he got the package ready after Christmas, there’s a strong possibility that he’d be so weighted down at that point by having had to eat this compromise and swallow that amendment that he just would not be able to get the sleigh off the ground. The holiday magic would be gone.

And being stuck in the sleigh is when Santa would be particularly vulnerable. Those senatorial Scrooges have plenty of allies (men and women who like to masquerade in 18th century costumes and carry pitchforks) who would then have Santa right where they want him.

For your sake, Virginia, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. These pitchforkers are the sort who would take a lot of pleasure in saying, “I killed Santa.”

Steve Piontek



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