One of the arguments out there about health care is whether marginal Democrats who intend to vote against the bill could nevertheless vote for cloture. Here's Ed Kilgore arguing for party unity on cloture, regardless of what happens on passage.
With that in mind, the cloture and final votes on the Cass Sunstein nomination are interesting. Yesterday, Democrats rounded up 63 votes for cloture, losing three Democrats (Pryor, Lincoln, Webb) and adding six Republicans (Collins, Snowe, Bennett, Hatch, Gregg, Lugar, Voinovich -- 59 - 3 + 6 = 63).
Today, the Senate confirmed Sunstein, 57-40. Boxer and Byrd missed the vote. One new "no" vote was the newest Senator; as expected, LeMieux is not going to do anything to jeopardize Christ in his upcoming primary battle (and this is one where Mel Martinez very well might have voted the other way). Judd Gregg voted for cloture, but against confirmation; the other six Republicans who voted for cloture stuck with Sunstein on confirmation. That leaves three Democrats who voted yes on cloture but no on confirmation:
So, Ben Nelson (along with Begich) was willing to vote for cloture on a hot-button nomination, even though he voted against confirmation.
A possible sign of things to come? A fluke? Reporters: time to talk to Ben Nelson, and I guess to Begich, and the rest of the marginal Dems, about filibusters and final passage (although of course it's in Nelson's interests to bluff filibuster even if he intends to stick with the party on cloture, at least if he wants to maximize his leverage with everyone).
I'm not aware of any study about this, but there's very little precedent for the current situation -- unified Democratic control and a filibuster-everything opposition party. Sure seems interesting to me, no? Now, granted, a nomination is a lot different than legislation, since compromise and bargaining within a bill are possible in a way that can't happen with conform/reject votes. Still, even if two or three marginal Democratic Senators are willing to be Cloture Yes/Passage No votes on health care, passage starts getting a whole lot easier.