In a political environment where Democrats control 60% of the Senate, 59% of the House and won the White House with 68% of the electoral college, some (believe it or not) conservative Democrats show signs of moving left. Some states that used to be considered "battleground" states really aren't anymore and some districts once purple are now undeniably blue. While some of this may be a temporary phenomenon due to revulsion at the couldn't-govern-anything-right Bush regime some of it is driven by demographic trends that continue to shrink the GOP base.
If the left wing of the Democratic party can actually stick together and refuse to budge, it's the moderate senators and representatives (both red and blue) who will begin to crack in the leftward direction. It's already happening.
Democrats have 257 seats in the House and need 218 to pass bills. The blue dog coalition in the House has 52 members according to Wikipedia (some below may now be "New Democrats", a different kind of moderate). That's enough, if they all vote against a robust public option, to kill it. But they won't all vote against it because they want to keep their jobs. Take a look:
BLUE DOGS IN STRONG OBAMA DISTRICTS
Position on Public Option
Opposed (Edit: "Medicare-like") public option but now supports some kind of P.O.
Your district went for Obama 72% to 27% and you would vote against his bill if it has a robust public option? I dare you. Rahm, who gave you money, should dare you.
It was the Blue Dogs who, just last week, won concessions on the House bill being written. But, I would argue, there's little need for much compromise at this point. The majority of the Blue-Dogs-in-Strong-Obama-districts already support a public option without triggers (see the chart above). They're doing so in many cases not because of their principles but because it's politically expedient. And it is. Some who have yet to come off the fence will be hard-pressed to vote "no" if their colleagues point out how vulnerable they'll be if they shoot down the President's top priority. Nancy Pelosi says she has the votes for reform with a public plan and I think she does.
And everyone assumes that all Republicans will vote no. They did on the stimulus bill. But we shouldn't just assume it. If the situation were reversed, Republicans would be looking for Democrats in red/prurple districts they could pick off. There are Republicans in districts that went for Obama who will have a hard time explaining to their constituents why they voted "no." Don't negotiate with them but don't just assume they won't ditch their leadership to save their seats. We strengthen the opposition by crediting them votes that haven't yet been taken.
The same principle applies in the Senate. Obama won Maine by 17 points over McCain. Yes, Senators Snowe and Collins have been popular. But 17 points! There's a reason they break with their party and that's it. Obama won in PA by 11 points. Sen. Specter had a Toomey problem he probably couldn't overcome but he also had a being-a-Republican problem. Since Joe Sestak started making noise about running Specter has been voting very Democratic.
With 60 Democratic seats, the two Maine Senators (and maybe even 1 or 2 other vulnerable Republicans) I don't see what the problem is. Forget about Max Baucus.
Put the best bill together and put it up for a vote. If the Republicans/Blue Dogs can muster the votes to kill it, some of them will pay on election day. Time to stop operating out of fear and let the other side sweat it out.