One eye on policy, one eye on cloture

ONE EYE ON POLICY, ONE EYE ON CLOTURE…. Every time a center-right member of the Senate Democratic caucus says something discouraging about health care reform, there’s always a key caveat: their votes on cloture matter more than their votes on the bill. Just so long as these “Conservadems” oppose a Republican filibuster that would block consideration of the bill, they can vote however they please on the legislation itself.

With that in mind, there’s pretty intense interest in how these members plan to proceed on cloture. For example, it flew under the radar this week, but Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) told Ryan Grim the other day, “I’m not right now inclined to support any filibuster.” Noting the GOP’s obstructionists tactics, Landrieu added, “For the Republican Party to kind of step out of the game is very unfortunate. I’m not going to be joining people that don’t want progress.”

What’s more, last week, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said, “I don’t think you’ll see me or any other Democrats” support a filibuster. (via Aaron Wiener)

Yesterday, Arlen Specter offered a surprisingly encouraging assessment.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) on Thursday said that Democrats have 60 votes for cloture on a healthcare bill with a national public health insurance option. […]

“We have 60 votes without Sen. [Olympia] Snowe [R-Maine] to invoke cloture,” Specter told MSNBC [last night]. “I hope we have her but we may be able to do it without her.”

Specter said the senators on the fence about the public option may vote for cloture to bring the bill to a floor vote, then vote against the legislation.

“Very frequently a senator will vote for cloture but against the bill,” he said.

If that’s true, it’s obviously a major breakthrough. If there are already 60 votes for cloture, the likelihood of a strong bill becoming law is very strong. The problem, though, is that Specter seems to be the only person who’s convinced that those votes are definitely there. I hope he’s right, but I’ll temper my enthusiasm until I hear others — say, someone in the leadership, for example — make the same assessment.

All things being equal, though, this is the right push — just get the center-right Dems to commit to an up-or-down vote. That’s all. They don’t have to like the bill; they don’t even have to vote for the bill; they can even vote for an amendment to remove the public option from the bill; they just have to let the bill come to the floor for a vote.

Get 60 senators to agree, and everything will work out fine.