Cloture watch

CLOTURE WATCH…. Senate Democrats need 60 votes to bring health care reform to the floor for a debate. As of this morning, three Dems — Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.), and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) — had not yet committed to letting the Senate consider the legislation.

As of this afternoon, one of the three made the right call: Nelson will vote with the majority. In a statement, the conservative Democrat concluded:

“In my first reading, I support parts of the bill and oppose others I will work to fix. If that’s not possible, I will oppose the second cloture motion — needing 60 votes — to end debate, and oppose the final bill.

“But I won’t slam the doors of the Senate in the face of Nebraskans now. They want the health care system fixed. The Senate owes them a full and open debate to try to do so.”

Nelson may, in other words, slam the doors of the Senate in the face of Nebraskans some other time, just not tomorrow night.

Landrieu hasn’t made any official announcements, but she made some comments that suggest she’s already looking ahead to the next stage of the debate. “I have leverage now, I’m using it to the best of my ability, I’m going to use it on the Senate floor,” Landrieu said. If the senator doesn’t think the bill is going to the Senate floor, she probably wouldn’t say this.

Lincoln continues to be the most cryptic of the group. Earlier today, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters that Lincoln had told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) how she intends to vote. Lincoln’s office quickly said that wasn’t the case, and that the senator was still reviewing the bill.

Truth be told, especially after Nelson’s statement, it’s hard to imagine a lone Democratic senator siding with Republicans to block a debate on health care reform, effectively strangling reform in the crib. But when center-right Dems feel panicky, they become unpredictable.