Not a surprise but potentially a very big deal. Last week Nelson called the abortion language “non-negotiable” and vowed to filibuster the final bill if it didn’t make it in. If he’s true to his word then Reid is now stuck at 59, with lots more grief to come depending upon how Lieberman, Snowe, and Lincoln, among others, shake out on the public option Medicare “compromise.” TPM surveys the landscape:

The problem is Nelson holds all the cards. So assuming Nelson is unyielding on his filibuster threat, which seems like a reasonable assumption at this point, that means the Democrats need a GOP senator to get to 60. The most likely GOPer to defect is Olympia Snowe, but she comes with pretty high price: no public option for sure. She’s cool to even the latest compromise that would remove public option in exchange for expanding Medicare.

Left unmentioned here: Bart Stupak, who sponsored the anti-abortion amendment that passed the House, has sworn up and down that his pro-life coalition will kill the final bill if the abortion language in it ends up being watered down. If he’s true to his word, not only is the ping pong strategy well and truly dead but the whole endeavor’s now hanging by a thread. Unless they have a Santa bag full of legislative bribes, I don’t know how Pelosi and Reid are going to thread this needle between pro-lifers and -choicers.

The vote was 54/45. Stand by for the roll and updates.

Update: Here’s the roll. Democrats voting no (i.e. not to table the amendment): Bayh, Casey, Conrad, Dorgan, Kaufman, Nelson, and Pryor. Republicans voting yes: Just the wonder twins from Maine, natch.

Update: They called his bluff, and … it looks like it really was a bluff.

A few reporters waiting outside the door asked him how it would effect his decision on whether to support the final effort.

“I want to continue to work on this,” he said, not ruling out his support, at least “not at this point in time. I want to continue to work on the project we’re working on… This makes it harder right now [to support the bill]. We’ll have to see if they can make it easier.”