NO MIDDLE GROUND BETWEEN SUCCESS AND FAILURE…. For those of us prone to hand-wringing when it comes to the fate of health care reform, there are still all kinds of things to worry about. Can Pelosi pull together 218 votes? How many members can Stupak keep together to kill reform? Will the Senate get 51 for reconciliation? Will the parliamentarian cause trouble?

But lurking in the background has been another nagging fear: would Dems decide comprehensive reform is just too heavy a lift, and scrap it for some pared-down, scaled-back package that doesn’t do much, call it “reform,” and pretend it’s a victory? To use the football analogy, Democrats, down by five with the clock near zero, would kick a field goal — they’d still lose but the defeat would look a little better.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the White House hasn’t ruled out this Plan B.

President Barack Obama will use a bipartisan summit Thursday to push for sweeping health-care legislation, but if that fails to generate enough support the White House has prepared the outlines of a more modest plan.

His leading alternate approach would provide health insurance to perhaps 15 million Americans, about half what the comprehensive bill would cover, according to two people familiar with the planning.

The White House isn’t just denying the accuracy of the report, by all indications, the president’s team is absolutely livid over the article. A Murdoch-owned paper, on the day of the health care summit, seems to be deliberately trying to sabotage Dems’ efforts to create some momentum.

So, what’s the truth here? It seems the White House, in the wake of the Massachusetts fiasco, drew up a variety of plans, and this watered-down tack was one of the possibilities. But here’s the key: President Obama and his team chose not to pursue it, as evidenced by the White House push in support of the president’s plan.

Indeed, for Democratic policymakers, this scaled-back approach — Cohn noted that some insiders call it the “Skinny Bill” — would likely be a political and policy disaster. It wouldn’t solve the problem reform is intended to address; it would demoralize the base that needs the party to finish the job; it would still be the subject of ridiculous Republican lies; it would signal to the electorate that Dems can’t govern effectively enough to deliver on their top priority; and it would delay the entire process by several months, likely killing its chances anyway.

Let’s be clear: there is no fallback position. Plan B may exist on paper, but not in reality. The House and Senate have already passed health care reform bills, and the president has presented a way to bridge the gap between the two. If it passes and becomes law, Democrats will have delivered a historic success. If Dems come up short, and let this once-in-a-generation opportunity pass them by, it will be a failure for the ages, and the nation will suffer.

As Ezra explained, “At this point, health-care reform either passes or it dies. Democrats are all in on this one. They know it, Republicans know it, and maybe more importantly, they know the Republicans know it. Letting health-care reform fail is indistinguishable from conceding the 2010 election. There’s no real fallback plan. If Democrats fall back, they fall.”

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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.