Reading the tea leaves

READING THE TEA LEAVES…. After the compromise deal on the public option was reached last night, there was no doubt a sense of relief among many Senate Democrats. This has been the most contentious element of the debate, and while the public option provision has now been scaled back considerably, it’s been replaced with measures that reform advocates can feel good about.

But I’m not quite sure how much closer proponents are to 60.

As of, say, last week, reform had 56 votes. (In a sane system, that should be more than enough to pass the bill.) The compromise should bring Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) into the fold, which brings the total to 58.

Olympia Snowe’s (R-Maine) support is unlikely — she’s not on board with the Medicare buy-in — and Susan Collins (R-Maine) hasn’t had much to say either way. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is a tough sell without ridiculous restrictions on indirect funding of abortion. And then there’s Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who issued a four paragraph statement this morning that doesn’t reach firm conclusions.

“I am encouraged by the progress toward a consensus on proposals to send to the Congressional Budget Office to review. I believe that it is important to pass legislation that expands access to the millions who do not have coverage, improves quality and lowers costs while not impeding our economic recovery or increasing the debt.

“My opposition to a government-run insurance option, including any option with a trigger, has been clear for months and remains my position today.

“Regarding the ‘Medicare buy-in’ proposal that is being discussed, we must remain vigilant about protecting and extending the solvency of the program, which is now in a perilous financial condition.

“It is my understanding that at this point there is no legislative language so I look forward to analyzing the details of the plan and reviewing analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of the Actuary in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.”

So, Lieberman’s “encouraged.” That’s good. But the bill includes a hard-to-pull trigger, and Lieberman’s opposition to a trigger remains unchanged. That’s bad.

As for the buy-in, Lieberman was non-committal. He was a fierce supporter of the idea during his national campaign in 2000, but I think we all realize how much the Connecticut senator has changed over the last nine years.

In the loosest sense, and putting aside House concerns for a moment, the reform bill needs two more votes, and they’ll have to come from some combination of Nelson, Lieberman, Snowe, and/or Collins.

I’m relatively optimistic this will eventually come together, but if I’m Harry Reid, I’m not even sure how I’d go about starting to win two of these four votes.