How likely is the bluff?

HOW LIKELY IS THE BLUFF?…. Marc Ambinder notes this afternoon that Senate Democratic leaders and the White House still think that Joe Lieberman, when push comes to shove, will join Dems and support cloture on health care reform. “They think he’s posturing for power but will cave,” Ambinder said.

Ambinder added:

Now — the final bill, post-conference, is going to look a bit different from the reconciled Senate bill. Lieberman is giving himself the power to influence the final bill. I doubt that the Senate leadership is going to press him too hard right now, preferring to see if he can be accommodated in the final debate.

To be sure, Lieberman seems to have left himself a little wiggle room. The senator said today that he’s told Harry Reid that he’ll support a Republican filibuster “if the bill remains what it is now.” Since the amendment process will no doubt alter the bill, the argument goes, then Lieberman may yet come around.

But I wouldn’t count on it.

I understand the argument. Lieberman loves attention and power. By threatening to join the Republican filibuster, he gets both — Democrats have to scramble to make him happy, since there’s no margin for error in putting together 60 votes. Lieberman gets to feel very important for the next several weeks by making this threat less than 24 hours after Harry Reid stated his intentions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to be known forever as The Senator Who Killed Health Care Reform.

I find it very easy to believe, however, that Lieberman is capable of doing just that. He left himself some wiggle room, but not when it comes to the public option — he’s against it, no matter what, even with all of the compromises thrown in.

What’s more, Lieberman didn’t have to make the explicit threat to get the attention he craves — he could have just as easily said he’s keeping his options open, forcing Dems to cater to his demands. Instead, he went further, explicitly vowing to stop the Senate from even voting on the bill if some consumers in some states have a choice between public and private insurance plans.

What does Lieberman have to gain by following through on this threat? Well, if he plans to seek re-election in 2012, he’ll need a lot of Republican support to have a chance. Running as the independent who single handedly prevented public-private competition would probably be a big selling point.

That said, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked this afternoon about Lieberman’s willingness to filibuster reform. Reid told reporters, “Joe Lieberman is the least of Harry Reid’s problems.”

I’m not sure how that’s possible — he can’t get to 60 without Lieberman, and Lieberman is now vowing not to be part of the 60 — unless Reid thinks the Connecticut senator might be more flexible than he’s letting on.