Maybe they’re just trying to get ahead of the curve — and the courts.  Senate Democrats have quietly begun looking at ways to replace the federal mandate at the heart of ObamaCare, according to Politico, which calls the effort a “threat.”  It might be intended as a last-ditch lifesaver:

A handful of moderate Senate Democrats are looking for ways to roll back the highly contentious individual mandate — the pillar of President Barack Obama’s health care law — a sign that red-state senators are prepared to assert their independence ahead of the 2012 elections.

They haven’t decided whether to propose legislation, but any effort by moderate Democrats that takes aim at the individual mandate could embarrass Obama and embolden Republicans who are still maneuvering to take down the health care law.

Sure, it could give the GOP some momentum, but that’s not why the moderates are looking for Plan B now.  The rulings from Florida and Virginia on the constitutionality of ObamaCare’s mandate has them worried that the courts might just overturn the whole enchilada, leaving Democrats empty-handed after the last two years. Those who have to face voters in 2012 are already looking at a rough ride; having ObamaCare disgraced before the election without any chance to rescue it will seal their fate.

In response, they are doing what the ideologues in their caucus refused to do, which is to look for legal ways to push taxpayers into buying health insurance.  That won’t be easy to do, especially after rolling out the mandate and provoking the hostility of the electorate.  Without the mandate or something very close to it, the rest of the bill won’t work; the must-issue mandates for pre-existing conditions will send insurers into bankruptcy, creating 300 million uninsured instead of 14 million.

The moderates will find that ObamaCare simply doesn’t work, either economically or legally, in any form.  If so, that should lead to a new effort at real, market-based reforms that remove third-party payers from the vast majority of health-care services.  If tax policies change to break the employer lock on health insurance and if the plans move away from comprehensive coverage to serious-loss coverage, most of the issues of coverage will cease, and prices will get controlled through competition — just as they do in the Lasik and cosmetic-surgery markets, which have never had the third-party and employer-based issues of the rest of the medical market.