BAYH ENDORSES MCCONNELL LINE ON CLOTURE…. Democrats and other supporters of health care reform have a very simple message for center-right Dems who oppose fixing the system: just let the Senate vote.

The issue, of course, is cloture. Reform proponents don’t need 60 senators to pass a bill; they need 60 senators to simply let a vote happen. The message to Nelson, Lieberman, Lincoln, Landrieu, et al, is, “Agree to let the Senate vote on the bill, and then feel free to vote against it.”

Obviously, Republicans are going to fight like hell to blur the difference between the procedural vote and the actual vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said the procedural vote “will be treated as a vote on the merits of the bill.” Why? Because he says so.

And Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, one of the Senate’s more needlessly conservative Dems, apparently wants to help advance McConnell’s GOP message.

Bayh, who is undecided on the opt-out, is now asserting that he sees no difference between a vote to bring that measure to the floor (which requires 60) and a straight up or down vote on it — a claim that’s in perfect harmony with the GOP’s songsheet. […]

This one will really help maintain unity in the Dem caucus. It’s one thing, after all, to threaten to block efforts by the majority party — your own party — to stage a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill’s substance. It’s quite another to claim that the initial procedural vote, which requires 60, is not materially different from a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill’s substance.

Bayh specifically said he doesn’t see “much difference between process and policy at this particular juncture.” Republicans liked the quote so much they’re spreading it around.

Got that? Evan Bayh is undermining this once-in-a-generation chance at health care reform and helping advance the Republican message at the same time.

I should note that this isn’t entirely new — in July, Bayh was saying the same thing. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told his colleagues at the time, “Don’t let the Republicans filibuster us into failure.” Members of the caucus “may vote against final passage on a bill,” Durbin said, but like-minded colleagues should at least reject the idea of “allowing the filibuster to stop the whole Senate.” Almost immediately, Bayh said he disagreed, and that the procedural vote and the policy were practically the same thing.

Remember, this is total nonsense. Senators voting to end debate on a bill, only to ultimately vote against the same bill, happens all the time. Joe Lieberman has done it repeatedly.

Of course there’s a difference between procedural and policy votes. Bayh is helping Republicans for no reason.

It couldn’t be simpler — if legislation Bayh doesn’t like comes to the floor, he can vote against it. Before that, he can offer amendments, give speeches, and encourage others to agree with him. Just let the Senate vote.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.