The American people -- not to mention Senate Republicans -- will treat a vote for cloture on the chamber's healthcare reform bill as a vote in favor of "the substance of the bill," top Senate GOPers said Tuesday.

Even for those lawmakers who vote with Democrats to end debate but ultimately opt not to support the bill when it is up for a final vote, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) stressed their early support would still be treated as an endorsement of "a half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts, $400 billion in new taxes and higher insurance premiums for everyone else."

"At some point the majority leader will try to move to proceed to the bill, and I think it's appropriate to make the point at the outset that a vote on cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill will be treated as a vote on the merits of the bill," McConnell said at a press availability with other top Senate GOPers.

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"We all recall Senator Kerry's strained way in the 2004 campaign of explaining why he voted for [the Iraq War] before he voted against, and I think it is perfectly clear that most Americans will treat the vote to get on the [healthcare] bill as a vote on the substance of the bill," the Republican leader added.

McConnell's show of political brinkmanship on Tuesday afternoon could soon prove troublesome for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is already struggling to roundup enough votes to invoke cloture on the healthcare bill he previewed on Monday.

The announcement earlier in the day that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) would ultimately filibuster the cloture motion to signal his dissatisfaction with the bill's 'opt-out' public option provision means that Reid now needs some GOP help to bring the healthcare bill to a final vote.

But McConnell on Tuesday seemed to be firing a warning shot at potential Republican defectors who might help Democrats advance their healthcare bill. Even if those senators do, inevitably, choose to vote against the Democrats' effort, McConnell made explicitly clear that their vote to invoke cloture would be tantamount to actual support for the bill.

"I think we all remember the Kerry campaign, and we all remember the difficulty of explaining to our constituents why we were for something before we were against it," he said.

"And that is the dilemma I'm sure the majority leader has in trying to sell to his members the appropriateness of their voting to get on a bill that they haven't read and that they might ultimately try to figure out some way to vote against," he added.