Reid promises 60 on Saturday

Here is what is most likely. Reid gets his 60 votes to start debate. Amendments are offered and the bill becomes more conservative to assure the 60 votes needed to end debate.

Senate Democrats released their final leadership bill on health reform yesterday, believing there will be 60 votes to start debate on Saturday.

The measure, now known as S. 3590, runs to 2,074 pages, includes a public option, and carries a "CBO Score" claiming a $130 billion reduction in the federal deficit over 10 years.

Democrats who trooped to MSNBC microphones last night expressed confidence the 60 votes needed to beat a Republican filibuster will be there, not only to start debate but to close it and move toward final passage.

Sen. Tom Harkin told Rachel Maddow that a cloture vote to stop a filibuster has to be won, because a bill under the "reconciliation" process would have to come through the Budget Committee, and would thus lose all the money-saving and wellness provisions in the final bill.

Thus while President Bush could push though his tax cuts on a simple majority, Democrats will need unanimity in their 60-member caucus to push this bill through.

This gives enormous power to conservative Democrats who could withhold the crucial 60th vote, such as Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

The big smiles on the faces of Democratic leaders like Charles Schumer of New York seemed to indicate Lieberman doesn't want to lose the chairmanship of his Homeland Security Committee, that polls showing a majority of Arkansans want a public option may sway Lincoln, and that Landrieu is not up for re-election until 2014.

This leaves Nelson of Nebraska. He's up for re-election in 2012, but Fivethirtyeight.com says voters there oppose a public option 47-39. (Other polls disagree.)

So why the happy faces?

It might be the lesson Obama adviser David Axelrod draws from the loss by Creigh Deeds in Virginia (above). Failure to secure base Democrats makes you a loser, the thinking goes, and base Democrats are big supporters of a strong public option.

In a polarized nation strategic voting does not work. If people want conservatism there's an app for that. Anyone in the middle of the road gets run over.

Here is what is most likely. Reid gets his 60 votes to start debate. Amendments are offered and the bill becomes more conservative to assure the 60 votes needed to end debate. Then it's on to a House-Senate conference and my New Year's Resolution is no more political posts here in 2010.