STARTING THE CLOCK IN THE SENATE…. This afternoon, the Senate voted 56 to 40 on the motion to proceed on the health care reconciliation bill, and with that, the clock will start on this week’s debate. Senate Republicans, when they were desperate to psych-out House Democrats, argued repeatedly that they would use this last phase of the process to crush key changes/fixes.

Funny, they’re not really talking like that anymore.

Republicans are unlikely to force major changes to the measure making final tweaks to healthcare legislation, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Monday night.

[He] said the GOP would have a difficult time forcing changes to the healthcare reconciliation bill the Senate is expected to take up this week, despite others in the party professing confidence.

“No,” Coburn said during an appearance on CNBC when asked if the GOP would be able to stop many elements of the reconciliation bill. “We’ll put a few holes in it, but basically it’s going to come through here because they’ve done a good job crafting it.”

Now, those “few holes” might matter, at least as far as procedure is concerned. The Senate intends to pass the reconciliation package as-is, without changing so much as a syllable, so it can be sent on to the White House by week’s end. Even the most minor of changes would mean the House would have to vote on this one last time before it’s done.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told reporters this morning that edit-free approval is still the goal, but there may be “one or two” changes, though he characterized them as “minor” and inconsequential. To be sure, Senate Dems don’t want to have any changes, but Baucus believes these minor adjustments may be necessary based on procedural rulings.

With that in mind, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has already signaled to House members that they should plan to be around this weekend, just in case.

I’m sure they’re thrilled.

As for Senate Republicans’ next move, Sen. David Vitter, the scandal-plagued far-right Louisianan , offered the GOP’s first two amendments this afternoon. The first is a measure to “repeal the government takeover of health care,” and the second is “prohibiting use of funds to fund ACORN.”

The latter refers to a group that no longer seems to exist.

It sometimes amazes me who actually gets to serve in the world’s most deliberative body.

Update: One more thing. Republicans will be offering several liberal amendments, in the hopes of getting Democrats to vote for them and mess up the bill. Progressives won’t be fooled, but it’s something else to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen

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.