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Give Landrieu And Nelson A Break

Jonathan Cohn and I have been chewing over news suggesting that Harry Reid is starting to lose hope in winning significant Republican support on health care reform and is instead focusing on holding together the 60 Senate Democrats. The question now becomes, will the Democrats go along with a plan that may require them to break a unified GOP filibuster? Greg Sargeant says they won't:

Centrist Dems Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson have now given their answer: Stuff it.


However, she flatly refused to rule out filibustering any bill, including health care and climate change legislation. “I’m going to keep an open mind, but I am not committing to any procedural straitjackets one way or another,” she said.


“I’m not a closed mind on cloture, but if it’s an abuse of procedure, if it’s somebody trying to put a poison pill into a bill, or if it’s something that would be pre-emptive of Nebraska law, or something that rises to extraordinary circumstances, then I’ve always reserved the right to vote against cloture,” Nelson said.

Obviously it would be a bit much for Dems to expect these Senators to rule out any votes in advance. But it’s striking how zealously they are guarding their right to enable a minority of Senators to prevent important initiatives from ever coming to a straight up or down vote. Thus are Senate “kingmakers” made, apparently.

Hmm, I read those quotes very differently. These are red state Democrats with a legitimately strong interest in not being seen as tied to the liberal Democratic agenda. Sure, they have the chance to vote for cloture and then vote against the final bill. But even announcing that they'd vote for cloture is a declaration of party loyalty they'd rather not make publicly. I see those statements as maintaining maximum public flexibility. I have no idea what's in their head, but I have trouble seeing them filibustering health care to death.

Update: This Evan Bayh quote, on the other hand, sounds more unequivocal:

Evan Bayh , a moderate from Indiana, said he would not be inclined to vote to cut off a filibuster on a bill if he opposed the substance of the underlying measure, and he predicted his colleagues would feel the same way.

“Most senators aren’t sheep,” he said. “They don’t just go blindly along without thinking about things, and I don’t think we want them to do that.”

What is this guy's problem? It's hard to believe that he was until recently considered a top-shelf Veep or even presidential possibility.

Jonathan Chait