WILL THE BLUE DOGS COME HOME ON HCR?…. Nearly two months ago, when the House passed its health care reform bill, the vote was 220 to 215. While one House Republican, Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana, joined with the majority, 39 Democrats joined with Republicans to oppose the legislation.

A couple of the 39 Dems — Reps. Eric Massa (N.Y.) and Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) — said the health care bill was too conservative to support, but nearly all of the Democratic opponents were conservative Blue Dogs, with one objection or another.

The Senate reform bill, we now know, is less progressive in most respects than the House version, including the omission of a public option. Will some of the Blue Dogs who balked at the House bill in November support the final bill if it closely resembles the Senate version? Brian Beutler takes a closer look.

[F]or the first time, we’re seeing signs that some of the members who opposed the bill the first time around are keeping their options open — even leaning towards supporting the final bill if it closely resembles the Senate package.

Freshman Blue Dog Rep. Betsy Markey (D-CO) says some positive things about the Senate bill, and is keeping an open mind. Blue Dog Jason Altmire (D-PA) is on the record saying that the Senate bill is stronger than the House bill, and that “a lot” of Blue Dogs might flip their votes from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ if the Senate bill prevails in conference.

This isn’t just an academic question. To get the reform bill through the chamber the first time around, the Democratic leadership had very little margin for error — 218 votes were needed, and Pelosi & Co. assembled 219 Democratic proponents. If there’s a sizable progressive contingent that’s unsatisfied with the final package — that is, if it’s too close to the Senate version — an untold number may vote with Republicans against final passage.

At that point, the leadership would need at least some Blue Dogs to cross the finish line. Frankly, I’m not sure what more the Blue Dogs could want from the legislation — they sought cost controls, deficit reduction, and the removal of the public option. Some conservative Dems will reflexively oppose any reform bill (cough, cough, Mike McIntyre, cough), but for the rest, this should be an easy call.

That is, if their opposition was principled and policy-focused, and not just a reflexive response to far-right apoplexy.

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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.