ROCKEFELLER SIGNALS WILLINGNESS TO COMPROMISE…. No senator has been more enthusiastic in his support for the public option that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). And so it came as something of a surprise yesterday when he acknowledged that he’s open to a compromise proposal that’s been making the rounds.

“I think there’s one way that could work very well and could pick up some of the moderates,” Rockefeller told reporters. “I’m looking very much now at this opt-out public option.” Under the alternative proposal, the public option would be available nationwide but individual states could decline to participate.

Democratic Sens. Tom Carper (Del.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) — himself a big cheerleader for the public option — have been working on that proposal for the last few weeks and the idea has received tentatively positive reviews from some liberal and centrist Democrats.

Rockefeller’s purported interest in this compromise is notable given his staunch support for the liberal gold standard for the public option: a nationwide program that would pay medical providers based on Medicare rates, a proposal Rockefeller said would save the government more than $50 billion over 10 years. “An opt-out would still save money,” Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller specified that he’s talking about the opt-out measure, not the opt-in. “So you start out with a public option, and if you don’t like it you can opt out,” he said, adding, “That has a sense of freedom.”

This is a definite shift for Rockefeller, who said just last week that the opt-out compromise sounds “sort of like [a] trigger,” adding, “I don’t think it really is” a good idea.

Now, Rockefeller has not gone into any detail about what prompted the shift. It’s possible that someone like Schumer spent some time with him, and persuaded him of the idea’s merit. It’s equally possible that Rockefeller has surveyed the landscape and has determined that this is the strongest public option he can get out of the Senate.

Either way, the practical result is largely the same: strong supporters of the public option — Rockefeller, Howard Dean, even Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) — believe the opt-out compromise is tolerable, and strong skeptics of the public option — Ben Nelson, Max Baucus — seem to feel the same way.

At this point, talk of the opt out is still fairly new, and the framework of how the idea would be structured would need to be fleshed out much further before it became viable. But when liberal Dems and conservative Dems start talking up the same compromise measure, it’s something to keep an eye on.

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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.