STUPAK ‘MORE OPTIMISTIC’ ABOUT HEALTH REFORM’S CHANCES…. Passing health care reform will be difficult under the most favorable of circumstances, but if Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) pulls away 12 supporters from final passage success becomes practically impossible.

Stupak, of course, is threatening to kill the legislation over indirect, circuitous funding of abortion, and claims to lead a bloc of a dozen House Dems who oppose abortion rights. Last week, taking his threats seriously, Democratic leaders began engaging Stupak in earnest, trying to find a way to resolve the impasse.

As of late yesterday, things were looking up.

[Stupak] said he expects to resume talks with House leaders this week in a quest for wording that would impose no new limits on abortion rights but also would not allow use of federal money for the procedure.

“I’m more optimistic than I was a week ago,” Stupak told The Associated Press between meetings with constituents in his northern Michigan district, including a crowded town hall gathering where opinions on health care and the abortion issue were plentiful and varied.

There’s a certain oddity to the dispute. Generally, when there’s a disagreement like this, we see two sides that want to go in different directions, trying to find some areas of common ground. In this case, both sides claim to want the same thing: maintain the status quo as it relates to abortion funding.

“The president says he doesn’t want to expand or restrict current law (on abortion). Neither do I,” Stupak told the AP. “That’s never been our position. So is there some language that we can agree on that hits both points — we don’t restrict, we don’t expand abortion rights? I think we can get there.”

It’s worth noting that even if Democratic leaders resolve the dispute with Stupak, success is not guaranteed. There are still some House Dems who voted for reform in November who are now “undecided” about whether to finish the job. Given the margins, every lost “yes” vote will need to be made up for with a switched “no” vote, which is anything but easy.

That said, progress with Stupak is encouraging and important, and if an agreement is reached, it would give reform a real shot in the arm at a critical time.

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.