Can the Senate Pass a Health Care Bill Before Christmas?

The Democrats desperately want to pass a health care bill through the Senate before Christmas, so that it can go through conference and be voted in early next year.  The Senate is saying they can do this.  Here's what I don't get:  what about the CBO score?

Unless they actually just strip the bill back to the last version to get a full score, then they'll be voting blind.  Maybe if that's what Lieberman asks for, you can tack on something Stupak-like and get to 60 with an essentially unchanged score (for all the heat of the debate, the amount of money involved is trivial).

But is that exactly what Lieberman and Nelson are asking for?  We still don't know what's in this mythical deal.  If there are any material changes, it will simply not be possible to push this thing through the Senate before Christmas, at least not if you want to know what it's going to cost.  Essentially, the amount of time it takes to work through a cloture vote means that they need to call for cloture on Thursday.  And while the CBO is a marvelously efficient organization, it does not actually whip through its work faster than a speeding bullet.  Estimating the effect of any changes is simply going to take time.

Is the Senate willing to vote without a score?  As someone recently remarked to me, "Kent Conrad doesn't go to the bathroom without a CBO score".  Claire McCaskill has indicated she's unwilling to vote until she sees a good score.  And I don't think they're the only ones.  The CBO just wasted five days scoring The Deal that Wasn't.

If that's the case, I just don't see how you get to a cloture motion by Thursday.  They're still debating amendments.  And if I were a moderate Senator who doesn't really want to face voters having voted for this thing, I think the one thing I'd be asking for right now is some material changes from Baucus Lite, to slow it down and hope it dies of terminally bad poll numbers and progressive outrage in the New Year.

Of course, Reid has pulled off difficult votes before.  On the other hand, he's also slipped a lot of deadlines.  I suppose we'll find out soon, either way.