If, indeed, wavering Democrats who voted for the motion to proceed nonetheless conclude that they have no obligation to vote for cloture on passage of the bill unless their substantive demands are met, then we might as well start rediscussing the reconciliation strategy, because there is no version of health reform, now or at any point in recent history, that could command 60 votes in the Senate. To get to 60 on cloture (even granting that a Republican or two might still be lured across the line), it will be necessary to convert those who basically said "I hate this bill but I don't want to prevent the debate" to a position of "I hate this bill but I don't want to prevent a vote." And that will require not just moral suasion but pressure and maybe serious threats of reprisals from the Senate leadership, supplemented by a robust public campaign over the next few weeks to demonize the de facto 60-vote requirement, which much of the public knows nothing about.First of all, it wouldn't be at all surprising if Lincoln, Landrieu, Nelson, and Lieberman turn out to be willing to be yes/no votes after all (yes on cloture, no on the bill), despite all their bluster now -- they may simply be using their position to extort whatever they can get.
But, more obviously, of course there's a health care bill that can get 60 votes: the Senate Finance bill, as long as liberal Senators are willing to stick with it.
In fact, it seems very likely that the only thing that is preventing the holdouts from voting for the bill is the public option. Now, it's possible that there's still a compromise available to secure 60 for some version of a public option, but if not, it's not as if there isn't any possible fall-back position.
Remember what the voting in Senate Finance told us: a strong public option does not have fifty votes in the Senate; a weak public option probably has fifty, but just barely, and perhaps not through reconciliation; a bill without a public option certainly has sixty votes; and some compromise between weak public option and no public option at all might or might not be possible.