SOMETIME THIS THURSDAY, 435 members of Congress will stagger off the floor of the House of Representatives. Their eyes may be red-rimmed, their tempers frayed, their minds exhausted and their family relationships strained. Some, like Representative Pete Geren of Texas, will have celebrated their kids' birthdays over breakfast because they haven't been home for dinner in almost 100 days.

But for all the fatigue, most of them, especially the 230 Republican members, will feel as though they have been part of an important historical moment. They will leave Washington with visions of big black check marks placed proudly beside a list...

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