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The cloture vote to enable debate, amendments, and assorted Senatorial nonsense on a bill that would revamp 15% of the American economy and put it under the federal thumb has been scheduled for this evening at 8 pm ET, but the debate on the debate has already begun … and it’s already had a moment of ironic nonsense.  Harry Reid claimed that a vote against opening debate tonight amounted to an Orwellian action:

“Now he said, anyone who votes for this is going to have a lot of explaining to do,” Reid said during his floor speech today. “Now that is really Orwellian. That is Orwellian. Have a lot of explaing to do if they allow a debate to continue?” …

“All were asking today is to have a debate on it. I mean, why would anyone be afraid in supposedly the greatest debating society in the world
to debate healthcare,” he said. “What are they afraid of?”

Reid may have aimed his remarks at the two remaining Democratic holdouts on the motion that needs 60 votes to pass.

You know, a man who wants to put government in charge of making decisions on health care, create “comparative effectiveness” rationing panels, and calls over $500 billion in cuts to Medicare “saving” the program should be cautious about referencing George Orwell and 1984.

Update: Should have mentioned this first, but hat tip to HA commenter Willie for prompting the open thread.

Update (AP): The big question mark, obviously, is Blanche Lincoln, but it’ll be worth watching Nelson’s, Lieberman’s, Bayh’s, and Landrieu’s floor speeches too to see what demands they’re willing to issue publicly for their support going forward. As for tonight’s vote, it’s sort of a free kick for conservatives. Granted, 97 percent of Senate bills that pass this hurdle end up being enacted (so keep calling!), but most bills aren’t remotely as politically fraught as this one. Everyone expects Lincoln to cave and give Reid the 60 he needs — read Jay Cost’s excellent easy peasy three-point analysis for why it’s easy for Blue Dogs to say yes this time — but if she’s sweating now, she’ll be melting down before the final winner-take-all cloture vote a few weeks from now. Notes Cost, “The fact that these Democratic moderates are actually spending time ‘pondering’ whether to vote against starting debate is a sign that they are very skittish about this bill.”

Long story short, tonight is low risk and potentially huge reward. If Lincoln bugs out and the vote fails, it’ll be a nuclear humiliation for the Democrats and will have a lot of people suddenly believing that ObamaCare is un-passable.

Update (AP): Stressing that her yes vote today in no way guarantees a yes on cloture next time, Landrieu says she’s ready to proceed. All eyes on Lincoln now. The Louisiana purchase worked.

Update (AP): Lincoln caves in at 2:30, whining about Republican opposition to any type of reform and demanding at least a debate on how to improve U.S. health care. As I write this, she’s patting herself on the back for resisting both the right and “liberal special interest groups,” but emphasizes that she won’t vote for the Reid bill until the public option is dropped.

That’s 60 votes to proceed, unless someone pulls a very big surprise in the next few hours.

Update: And that’s that. 60-39, promptly at 8 p.m. Next cloture vote, if and when it happens next month or next year, is Armageddon. A hopeful note on a dark night: “It really was that hard for them to get to 60 just to proceed. Very telling.”