Pelosi did promise us a special present this year. The bad news: Unless Ben Nelson holds the line, we’re going to wake up to a boulder-sized piece of coal in the stocking from Obama Claus on Christmas morning. The good news: Looks like I won’t have to scrounge for Palin material to keep traffic up on Christmas Eve.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan to pass the Senate health care reform bill by Christmas looked increasingly in doubt Wednesday, as Republicans launched an offensive to stall the legislation and Democrats had yet to strike a 60-vote compromise.

Senators privately considered one scenario Wednesday that would have them casting a final vote at 7 p.m. Christmas Eve…

The Christmas deadline is a political target. Democrats want to finish the bill so they have a few weeks to move it through a House-Senate conference committee and deliver it to the president by the State of the Union address in late January or early February. After months of health care dominating their domestic agenda, Democrats are eager to shift to other issues early next year — mainly a focus on creating jobs.

Because Republicans like McConnell and DeMint are promising to delay by every possible means (even Olympia Snowe wants to slow down, believe it or not), the only way to get the bill to the floor by Christmas Eve is to schedule votes at the first possible moment under Senate rules — which means they could be voting on amendments at 3 a.m. this week. That’s how desperate the most transparent administration ever is to get this done before the next round of polls freaks out even more centrists.

Republicans may force Senate clerks to read the entire manager’s amendment but that will not disrupt the schedule. That’s because reading the amendment, which will be shorter than the 2,074-page healthcare bill, is not expected to take more than eight hours.

Reid could offer the manager’s amendment on Saturday morning and keep to his schedule as long as he files cloture sometime before midnight.

Cloture motions need one day to ripen, so the earliest the Senate could vote to end debate on Reid’s manager’s amendment would be 1 a.m. Monday.

Democrats would have to allow 30 hours of post-cloture debate to elapse before voting to approve the manager’s amendment. A second cloture vote to end debate on the initial healthcare bill would happen as early as 7 a.m. Tuesday, followed by another 30 hours of post-cloture debate before a vote to adopt that amendment to the underlying bill.

Even if they pass something, Clyburn reiterated this morning that the House wants a conference on the bill where it plans to “fight very hard” for the public option, so this will drag on past Christmas. The question then will be whether the polls can get so toxic that Blue Dogs will start peeling away even though both chambers will have already passed something. I’m skeptical, but who knows how deep in the toilet the numbers will be after New Year’s?

Oh, and have I mentioned that there’s still no bill yet? Watch Mitch McConnell chew Reid up over that in this morning’s floor speech. Six minutes is long-ish for a YouTube clip, but it gets better towards the end. Quote: “No American who hasn’t been invited into the Majority Leader’s conference room knows what will be in that bill.”

Update: Seriously, no American outside the conference room has seen it. Including Nancy Pelosi.