IF NELSON IS SEEKING ATTENTION, HE’S GOT IT…. By most head-counts, the Senate Democratic health care proposal has 59 votes. Because the Senate can be an absurd institution, legislation with 59 supporters out of 100 members necessarily fails.

The only holdout in the Democratic caucus — the one who continues to hold reform hostage — is, of course, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. He not only continues to oppose the bill, he’s prepared to join a Republican filibuster, preventing the Senate from even voting on health care reform at all.

As the NYT noted this morning, the conservative Nebraskan is the subject of considerable attention right now.

Mr. Nelson, a former governor, state insurance commissioner and insurance company executive now serving his second Senate term, is the focus of increasingly intense entreaties by Mr. Reid and the White House. He has met personally with President Obama three times in the last nine days, and daily with Mr. Reid.

Pete Rouse, a senior White House adviser, has been assigned specifically to address Mr. Nelson’s concerns. Senator Bob Casey, a freshman Democrat from Pennsylvania and a prominent opponent of abortion rights, was tapped to devise some sort of compromise language on coverage for abortions to bring Mr. Nelson on board. […]

To help divine Mr. Nelson’s thinking, a wide array of Democrats have reached out to him in recent days, including former Senators Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.

To date, Nelson has rejected compromise language, and compromises on the compromises. As of yesterday, he threw cold water on the idea of approving a bill by Christmas, and even raised the specter of scaling back whole portions of the bill, which would likely delay the process for months, and probably kill it altogether.

What’s interesting, though, is that after reading Nelson’s remarks yesterday, I was inclined to think the game is up — reform by Christmas was an impossibility, and the entire effort may very well die at the hands of a Republican filibuster (with Nelson’s help). But notice: everyone on the Hill keeps working towards the reform-by-Christmas goal. The leadership is well aware of what Nelson said and what Nelson has threatened, but Reid, Durbin, and others continue to work towards their deadline, and occasionally yesterday even sounded vaguely optimistic.

It’s enough to make observers wonder, “Do they know something the rest of us don’t?” The answer, apparently, is, “Maybe.”

Sometime very soon — and by that I mean, possibly today — one of three things will have to happen. Either a) someone can convince Nelson to change his mind, possibly with yet another compromise offer; b) someone can convince Nelson to oppose the bill but let the Senate vote on it; or c) Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) will break ranks.

The Senate leadership must think one of those three remains possible, or they wouldn’t be working so hard to reach the Christmas deadline. That said, I simply have no idea which of those three has even the slightest chance of happening.

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.