McConnell's takeaways for an earlier Christmas Eve vote

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been taking a lot of grief over his agreement to get to a final ObamaCare vote a few hours earlier on Christmas Eve.  Many conservatives expressed anger and disappointment that the Republican leadership appeared to retreat from an earlier pledge to offer every last parliamentary procedure and each minute of available debate to delay the vote and highlight the bill’s objectionable components.  However, Byron York reports that McConnell got a pretty good deal in trade for a few hours of rest:

Some commentators have accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of caving to Democratic pressure by agreeing to hold the vote on final passage of the national health care bill on Christmas Eve morning as opposed to the originally-planned 7 p.m. “Mitch McConnell Surrenders,” reads one blog headline. “McConnell Weasels Out,” reads another.

But according to a well placed GOP Senate source, it was Majority Leader Harry Reid who approached McConnell in hopes of holding the vote earlier, and McConnell, who was prepared to go ahead with the evening vote, got some key concessions from Reid in return for agreeing to move the vote up a few hours.

There’s no doubt that McConnell, with just 40 Republican votes, holds the weak hand in negotiating with Reid. But according to the source, in exchange for agreeing to hold the vote on Christmas Eve morning instead of evening, McConnell got Reid to agree to hold a high-profile debt-limit vote next month — just before the president’s State of the Union address — instead of burying the issue later, as Democrats had wanted. In addition, McConnell got Reid to agree to showcase a number of deficit-related Republican amendments, forcing Democrats to vote on issues they had hoped to avoid. …

But back to the problem at hand: Reid wanted to leave town earlier than 7 p.m. So McConnell offered him a deal. The Senate comes back into session on January 20, just a few days before the State of the Union address. McConnell offered to hold the health care vote a few hours earlier on Christmas Eve if Reid would agree to take up the debt limit issue on January 20, and would further agree to hold a specific roll-call vote that day on raising the debt ceiling, and would further agree to consider, and vote on, five Republican amendments related to out-of-control federal spending.

In the debt debate — the one Democrats didn’t want to have — GOP senators are expected to offer amendments to end the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, as well as amendments on a budget-cutting package, on a deficit-control commission and other spending-related items.

That sounds like at least an interesting trade.  In exchange for a few hours of floor time that almost everyone would have ignored as they spent time with their families, McConnell now gets to hold some critical roll-call votes on spending and bailouts just before Obama shows up to talk about deficits and uncontrollable spending.  Democrats will also have to vote to raise the debt ceiling just hours before Obama cloaks himself in the mantle of a deficit hawk.  If nothing else, it forces Democrats to either embarrass themselves for the SOTU or actually do something about runaway spending.

It’s also good to remember that while the final vote comes tomorrow on Christmas Eve, the final cloture vote comes today, and would have done so regardless of any deal or lack of same between the two leaders.  All Harry Reid needs tomorrow is 51 votes to pass a bill that is apparently going nowhere.  Even without the last few hours before Christmas, the White House has thrown in the towel on getting anything done until February.

Basically, McConnell conducted a tactical retreat on one symbolic front that won’t affect the trajectory of the bill at all, while advancing on a couple of symbolic and substantive fronts later.  That deal may or may not be worth it — frankly, it seems like a big win to me, but your mileage may vary — but it wasn’t just an agreement to get a few more hours of vacation for both sides.

Update: I forgot to put the link to Byron’s story — my apologies!