TODAY IN ONE PARAGRAPH: The House has taken off for the holidays, but the Senate still has a budget bill to pass. A vote on the Ryan-Murray accord is still expected Tuesday, and all indications are that its passage remains likely. A federal judge blasted the NSA's metadata gathering as "almost Orwellian" and hinted that the constitutionality of such surveillance programs could be in doubt. 2013 was unproductive for Congress, but 2014 could be just as bad. Health insurance might fail you when you need it, but it can make you happier. And playing Starcraft can win you U.S. visas.
TUESDAY VOTE ON BUDGET DEAL LOOMS IN SENATE: The deal's passage looks all but certain, as Orrin Hatch's announcement today that he will vote for the measure brings the number of GOP senators in favor to six. Some Republican heavyweights, including Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Mitch McConnell, continue to signal their opposition. (Erik Wasson, The Hill)
JUDGE: NSA PROGRAMS 'ALMOST ORWELLIAN,' CONSTITUTIONALLY SUSPECT: D.C. District Court Judge Richard Leon's new ruling is sharply word and potentially carries serious implications for the NSA's metadata-collection activities. (Phillip Bump, The Wire)
THE MONEY QUOTE: "[T]he almost-Orwellian technology that enables the Government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States," the George W. Bush-appointed Leon writes, "is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979," when the Supreme Court first allowed the government to collect such data. "The notion that the Government could collect similar data on hundreds of millions of people and retain that data for a five-year period, updating it with new data every day in perpetuity, was at best, in 1979, the stuff of science fiction."
2013 WAS UNPRODUCTIVE. 2014 MIGHT NOT BE MUCH BETTER.: John Boehner's dismissal of outside conservative groups last week stirred a sense that "after years of governing by crisis, Congress may begin returning to something resembling regular order." The Senate is still strongly divided, and Harry Reid's use of the nuclear option has only heightened partisanship, making the chances of any significant measures getting through the chamber ahead of next year's midterm elections highly suspect. (Reid Wilson, WaPo)
BUT CONGRESS REALLY DOES WORK HARD. REALLY! The House and Senate both might have logged historically low work hours this year, but a lawmaker's job doesn't start and end with hearings on the Hill and floor votes. There's a lot more to factor in, including constituent services, campaigning, and dealing with the press. Congress might be ineffective, but most lawmakers put in a lot of overtime. (Matt Berman, NJ)
TOMORROW IN ONE PARAGRAPH: The Senate is expected to vote on the bipartisan budget deal and the Defense Authorization Act. The Senate Judiciary will hold a two-panel hearing on patent- troll abuses at 10 a.m. in Dirksen 226. The House is out of session.
MERRILY INSURED: Health insurance may not make you healthy, but it may make you happy. (Charles Kenny, Businessweek)
NSA'S BIGGEST FAN: Sunday's episode of 60 Minutes seemed more like a commercial for the beleaguered agency than an investigation. (Sara Morrison, The Wire)
STARCRAFT AND U.S. VISAS: Two Starcraft champions have been awarded U.S. visas in the category for "internationally recognized athletes." (Tim Fernholz, Quartz)
RYAN LOSKARN: The former chief of staff to Sen. Lamar Alexander will be released into the custody of his parents while he awaits trial. (Hanna Hess, Roll Call)
LUCKY NUMBER EIGHT: The 8th of the month–food-stamp collection day–is the one constant for Raphael, and thousands of people in similar circumstances, whose lives are otherwise defined by uncertainty and tumult. (Eli Saslow, WaPo)
DEMOCRATS' DEFINING DIVIDE: "Populism can't be ghettoized in a single issue like entitlements or financial reform. It touches pretty much every economic issue that divides Democrats." (Noam Scheiber, TNR)
LAST NIGHT'S LATE-NIGHT FUNNIES IN UNDER 2 MINUTES: The Ghost of Christmas Past visits Congress, President Bush shows Obama and Clinton his newest paintings, and the sign-language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's funeral makes a guest appearance on SNL. (Reena Flores, NJ)
YOUR PERSONAL-DATA BREAKDOWN ON SOCIAL MEDIA: This interactive infographic breaks down how your personal data looks and matters to different social-media sites. (New Yorker)