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The Brief: December 23, 2009

A major chapter of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s fight in DC may be drawing to an end.

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

A major chapter of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s fight in DC may be drawing to an end.

She pledged to remain in Washington and use her senior status to fight federal healthcare reform (and cap and trade legislation). 

Naturally, It’s an uphill fight when the other side has 60 votes. Since a filibuster-proof majority voted favorably on the healthcare bill’s first procedural vote (Hutchison voted against it), Senate Democrats have been confident that they will pass their version of the healthcare bill by Christmas — if only just before. A final vote is currently scheduled for the morning of December 24. 

This is not the end of the line for the healthcare debate, though.  Significant work remains to be done.

"Tomorrow's vote is just another point in the debate over government-run health care and Kay Bailey Hutchison's fight against a bill that increases taxes, cuts Medicare and burdens our economy with new mandates,” says Hutchison spokesman Joe Pounder. “As the debate continues, Senator Hutchison will continue to shed light on the backroom deals that led to this terrible bill and that now raise critical questions of constitutionality."

Yesterday, in a talk radio appearance, Hutchison questioned the constitutionality of the bill, saying it may run afoul of the Tenth Amendment by violating states’ right to “have their own insurance company and run it as they choose without any federal intervention."

A compromise between the Senate and House bills still has to be hammered out in committee, which will be followed by another round of voting.

Here’s more on that from The Associated Press’ Erica Werner:

There are significant differences between the two bills, including stricter abortion language in the House bill, a new government-run insurance plan in the House bill that's missing from the Senate version, and a tax on high-value insurance plans embraced by the Senate but strongly opposed by many House Democrats.

Senate moderates have served notice they won't support a final deal if government-run insurance comes back. And Democratic abortion opponents in the House say a Senate compromise on the volatile issue is unacceptable.

But there's considerable pressure on Democrats to avoid messy negotiations over a final bill. Public support for the legislation continues to sink in opinion polls.

The bills probably have more in common than differences. Each costs around $1 trillion over 10 years and installs new requirements for nearly all Americans to buy insurance, providing subsidies to help lower-income people do so. They're paid for by a combination of tax and fee increases and cuts in projected Medicare spending.

Unpopular insurance company practices such as denying coverage to people with existing health conditions would be banned. Uninsured or self-employed Americans would have a new way to buy health insurance, via marketplaces called exchanges where private insurers would sell health plans required to meet certain minimum standard

CULLED:

• Democrat Jack McDonald, who was going to challenge Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul for District 10, will no longer be running for the seat. He never filed. He had raised $932,613 for the race and still had (as of September 30) $805,308 in the bank.  He says he will begin refunding contributions to his committee. “This was a difficult decision for me and one I did not make lightly,” he said in a statement. “I approached the decision in the same way I have approached my business decisions over the years—in an informed, realistic and fiscally-responsible way.”

• The Department of State Health Services will destroy all blood samples taken from infants before May 27, 2009 to settle a lawsuit over the state's newborn screening program. For years, the state has been storing dried bloodspots taken from newborn babies to screen for diseases — but state law didn't expressly authorize storage and testing of the samples until late May of this year. The recent lawsuit challenged the state's right to store these blood samples.

• Attorney General Greg Abbott filed for re-election. Republican heir apparent  Ted Cruz will not challenge him.  Cruz will wait for the seat to open up if and when U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison retires, allowing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to replace her, allowing Abbott to replace him, etc.

“It is like someone having a Christmas party that you are not invited to.” — Mark Miner, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, on challenger Debra Medina’s potential exclusion from the GOP primary debates

MUST READ:

Greg Abbott, other state attorneys general take aim at the 'Nebraska Compromise' health billFort Worth Star-Telegram

Census 2010: Officials say El Paso risks being undercountedEl Paso Times

BurkaBlocked — The Texas Tribune

Data Apps: Best and Worst Public Schools — The Texas Tribune

Sibling Squabbles — The Texas Tribune

CORRECTION: Yesterday’s Midday Brief included a note that “The Brief will return on December 28. “  Obviously, it should have read “tomorrow.”  Please forgive this festive over enthusiasm. The short holiday hiatus will not begin until this afternoon.

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