On the eve of a vote on the top priority of the president of the United States, everyone in Washington almost always knows how the vote will turn out. Not this time. That's because there has not in the lifetime of anyone in this town been anything quite like this.

By any normal political calculus, this bill would have been dead a long time ago. The public likes some of its parts, but overall dislikes the bill by a significant majority, and is deeply alarmed about its cost. The majority party has been losing off-year elections since it took up the measure, and a Republican who campaigned on a promise to block it got elected from Massachusetts.

Despite the president's huge majorities in both House and Senate, separate versions of the bill barely made it through both houses. When the special deals cut to get through the Senate on Christmas Eve came to light, the ensuing scandal embarrassed even those members who got the deals, and caused the president to disavow them.

But that bill, with its special deals intact, is what the House is being asked to pass this week, and the White House over the weekend decided those deals weren't so bad after all. Now the House in contemplating slipping the bill through without a direct up or down vote on it.

This is an election year. The president is calling for courage. But he's not up for re-election this year.

Brit Hume is the senior political analyst for Fox News Channel.