Tales from the Trail

Ho Ho Healthcare

USA-WEATHER/SNOWSTORMNothing says Christmas in Washington like a cloture vote!

Keep those fir trees, ornaments, the city blanketed in white — though of course the U.S. capital has all of those this year too. What real Washingtonians are looking for is a getaway by December 25. And with an early morning vote  today to cut off Senate debate on healthcare reform legislation, it could actually happen.

It’s all about cloture. And don’t feel bad if you’ve never seen that word before. It’s an inside-the-Beltway term that means agreeing to limit legislative debate. Cloture requires a 60-vote majority of the 100-member Senate, rather than a simple majority. It’s going to take three cloture votes to get to the final vote on the bill, expected late on Christmas Eve.

The mere fact that members of Congress are still working during the week leading up to Christmas is pushing the envelope.

Veteran Washington-watchers recall the days when U.S. lawmakers came back for a week or two after Thanksgiving and then headed home to their districts for a long holiday break. That tradition was broken, definitively, in 1998, when they stayed in session until December 19 to impeach President Bill Clinton. This year, the House of Representatives has already left town while senators hang around for a series of healthcare votes.

The first cloture vote was early on Monday, the second was this morning and a third one is expected on Wednesday.

Which Obama will be Gift Giver-in-Chief?


First lady Michelle Obama’s favorite childhood Christmas present was a dollhouse, a gift that may have presaged her current role as  the nation’s tastemaker, admired and followed for her stylish clothing and the mark she is making on the White House.

“It was a metal dollhouse with plastic furniture,” she told U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey for her upcoming “Christmas at the White House” television special that  airs on ABC at 10 p.m. Sunday.  “… I remember I really didn’t know how to set up a house, so I had all the furniture lined up along the walls as opposed to nestled around the fireplace, but I loved that little dollhouse.”

President Barack Obama’s favorite present? A basketball given by his father, who was absent for most of his childhood, and which the president later realized probably had a lot to do with his lifelong love for the sport.