THE EXASPERATING ‘CENTRISTS’…. Let’s see. First, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he liked the Stupak amendment and would be “highly unlikely” to vote for health care reform unless it included the language, or something very close to it, in the final bill. Then, Nelson shifted gears, saying he misunderstood a reporter’s questions the first time, and is satisfied with Senate Dems’ restrictions on public funding of abortion.

Now, Nelson has moved back in the other direction again.

The language in the Senate healthcare reform bill designed to bar federal funds from paying for abortions is not good enough, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) modified the healthcare bills approved by two committees in order to address concerns from anti-abortion-rights senators that the bill would change current laws prohibiting taxpayer money from being spent on abortion while not alienating abortion-rights supporters.

Reid did not succeed, according to Nelson, a key centrist swing vote Reid needs to advance his healthcare bill at a crucial test vote set for Saturday.

“We have looked at the language,” Nelson told The Hill. “That language is not language that I would prefer…. I think you need to have it eminently clear that no dollars that are federal tax dollars, directly or indirectly, are used to pay for abortions and it needs to be totally clear. [It’s] not clear enough, I don’t think.”

But here’s the kicker: Nelson may be playing a little game here. Reid’s measure on abortion funding is the right way to go, and Nelson almost certainly knows it. So what’s the problem? Nelson wants to kill the public option once and for all. In fact, Nelson said today, “If there’s no public option, perhaps some of the [abortion] problem goes away.”

The problem, then, isn’t with the abortion-related language — Nelson is just looking for leverage. The message to Reid, in effect, is, “You get rid of the public option and I’ll accept your provisions on abortion.”

Also note, Nelson said yesterday, “If you don’t like the bill, then why would you block your own opportunity to amend it?” Today, he said he’s undecided on whether he would block his own opportunity to amend the bill.

And speaking of “centrists,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is still threatening to kill health care reform if there’s a public option — and now thinks he can pull some other Dems with him.

Maybe now would be a good time to pause and note how unbelievably ridiculous these center-right senators are being. Harry Reid has offered them an affordable reform bill that doesn’t cost too much, lowers the deficit, restricts funding of abortion, restricts aid to immigrants, and doesn’t raise taxes on the middle class.

And the “centrists” are still complaining, suggesting they’re not really willing to compromise on anything.

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.