My view all along has been that the big spin war isn't over the substance of health care, but over the question of where the moderate center is. What's at stake is the effort of marginal Democrats to find cover to vote for health care reform in a world in which the natural cover, moderate Republicans voting with the Democrats, isn't available.
If that's correct, then Baucus isn't desperate to cut a deal; he's desperate to be seen as trying to cut a deal. Or, to put it another way, so far Baucus would be acting the same way whether his eventual goal was the deal, regardless of what he had to give up, or if his eventual goal was a "strong" bill (that is, one that liberals like) after first establishing that the GOP really didn't want to compromise.
If Baucus is mainly trying to establish that he's eager to deal, then it seems to me he's playing it well, but nevertheless it's not clear that he and the Democrats are winning the spin war. It's proven to be difficult for Gang of Sixers Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi to pretend that they are serious about cutting a deal, which should give the Democrats an opening to blame Republicans for a Democrats-plus-Maine-only bill. At least in my reading, however, that's not really how it's being covered yet. For example, we see things like the AP referring to reconciliation as the "nuclear option," which as Yglesias notes is a case of accepting an implausible GOP spin.
Given that the Dems have the White House, and that Republicans are massively unpopular, I'm not really sure why that's the case. Is it a case of Republicans successfully working the refs with their complaints about favorable coverage for Obama during the honeymoon period? Is it that the media have been (at least for a while) rolled by the town halls and the crazies? Or, am I wrong about how this is being interpreted by the press? I really don't know. I do continue to think that the current path is a sensible and winning one for the Democrats, although we don't yet know whether it winds up with a 60 or 51 vote trail through the Senate, and what exactly the final bill looks like after conference. Overall, I think Obama and the Democrats are very close to finally achieving significant health care reform, one way or another. If it does work, especially if the final bill gets 62 or 63 votes, I wonder what liberals will think of Baucus when it's all over.