Byron York
Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin recently was asked if a national healthcare bill would pass the Senate by the end of the year. "It must," Durbin responded. "We have to finish it."

Many other top Democrats share Durbin's determination to meet this deadline. But it's almost certainly not going to happen, for three reasons: the calendar, the Senate's other business and, most important, growing public opposition to the health bill itself.

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Start with the calendar. No matter what Durbin says, there isn't enough time to get a bill of the scope and complexity of the 2,074-page Senate proposal -- only unveiled on Nov. 18 -- finished by New Year's.

There are 14 workdays between the Senate's return from its Thanksgiving break to the beginning of the traditional Christmas-New Year's holiday -- 14 days to debate, amend, and vote on the biggest piece of legislation in a generation.

Even if the Senate were to work some weekends and part of the holidays to add a few days to the legislative calendar, there won't be enough time to deal with the amendments senators will propose. It won't just be Republicans trying to slow things down; there will be Democrats making changes, too. Say Senator X believes some provision in the bill will have a negative effect on his state. He'll need to be able to tell voters that he looked out for them. "They're all going to need their CYA amendments," says one well-connected Republican Senate aide.

Then there will be the Republican amendments. GOP lawmakers will introduce amendments to challenge some of the bill's fundamentals: the giant cuts in Medicare spending, the array of new and higher taxes, the coerciveness of the bill's mandates and the intimidating new powers given to healthcare bureaucrats. "We probably won't have one comprehensive alternative," Republican Sen. Charles Grassley told reporters. "We'll probably have a lot of different subsection amendments."

That takes time. But even if it were possible to get it done by year's end, health care is still just one of many things the Senate has to do. There are several appropriations bills that remain undone; a debt-ceiling agreement has to be reached; and some parts of both the Patriot Act and the highway bill need extending. (Never mind the distraction of the Afghanistan troop debate.) It all has to get done -- or at least kicked down the road -- by the end of the year. Even kicking them down the road will take time.

Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner