The big news late yesterday morning was that the Senate had no real trouble getting to the gun bill, voting 68-31 for cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill — two Democrats defected and voted against cloture, but a whopping 16 Republicans defected and supported cloture.

So they’re on the bill.

Which hardly means the bill will pass, or beat back future filibusters. The Manchin-Toomey compromise needs to be adopted as an amendment; that’s going to need 60 votes, and is apparently the first thing they’re going to work on. Then Republicans may attempt poison pill amendments that would, if they pass, lead mainstream Democrats to abandon the bill. It’s also possible that liberals could attempt to attach amendments that, if they pass, might make the overall bill too strong for moderates from both parties to support it.

And don’t think that just because Senators were reluctant to filibuster the motion to proceed — to keep the Senate from working on the bill at all — that they’ll be equally reluctant to block a vote on final passage.

And yet…as I said earlier, this bill doesn’t die by Senate filibuster. Oh, that might be the immediate cause of death. But it really doesn’t matter. Any bill that can’t win the support of 60 Senators is absolutely, positively, dead in the House of Representatives.

The thing to remember is that the House is almost certainly incapable of legislating. The talk out there about the House producing its own bill…I suppose anything is possible, but it’s almost certainly not going to happen on guns (and almost certainly won’t happen on immigration, either). Realistically, if we’re to get a bill, it almost certain is the Boehner Rule way (as Jonathan Chait noted in an excellent item this morning): it passes the Senate with a large supermajority, and then passes the House with mostly Democratic votes because Republicans believe the damage to them is larger if they refuse a vote.

To the extent we learned anything from the defeated filibuster on the motion to proceed, then, we learned that there may be at least some hesitation among Republicans about blocking a vote — which is what Barack Obama has been hitting on from the State of the Union on.

But again: we still don’t know that an intact bill can make it to the final vote stage in the Senate; we still don’t know if an intact bill can defeat a filibuster to get to that final vote; we don’t know whether the House would take up a bill if it did pass the Senate; and we don’t even know whether a bill could get a majority in the House even if they did take it up. So there’s a long, long, ways to go. What happened yesterday was the easiest part.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.