WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…. Prominent Republican lawmakers spent much of the summer trying to move the goalposts on the kind of majority health care reform should get.

A simple majority (51 votes) isn’t enough, because it would suggest plenty of Dems oppose the idea. A supermajority (60 votes) also isn’t enough, because it would mean a “partisan” bill. A 61- or 62-vote majority doesn’t count, either, because it would mean Dems only peeled off a couple of Republican votes. To be legitimate, GOP lawmakers said, reform needs all of the Dems and several Republican votes.

And now the Senate’s most conservative Democrat is endorsing the Republican line.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) continues to be a scold to the liberals in his party. Before a crowd of over 200 gathered at a senior center in Nebraska, Nelson said health care reform ought to pass with 65 votes — a feat which would require at least five Republicans to break with their party.

“I think anything less than that would challenge its legitimacy,” he said.

Nelson didn’t go so far as to say that he’d oppose a bill that had less than 64 other votes. But he did say he disagreed with the party’s legislative approach to the issue.

Historically, legislation that enjoyed say, 57 votes in the Senate, reflected a pretty popular bill. But the political world has not yet come to grips with the unusually small Republican minority, so the expectations are skewed.

And that’s what makes Nelson’s public comments so foolish. By his logic, health care reform legislation isn’t “legitimate” unless some opponents of health care reform vote for it. Nelson is deliberately creating an environment in which the biggest progressive policy achievement in a generation won’t be impressive enough, because conservative Republicans didn’t like it.

This is the same Ben Nelson who said yesterday that he wants to see the reform debate go even slower and see the public option get scrapped. Last week, Nelson also refused to commit to letting health care reform come for a vote on the Senate floor, holding out the possibility that he’ll side with Republicans on a filibuster.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.