Via Think Progress, which asks a good question. If Snowe’s serious about a balanced-budget amendment, why rule out a deal on entitlements right now when there’s a tiny (emphasis on “tiny”) bit of political momentum to make big changes to the budget? If she thinks Medicare’s too tough a nut to crack when we’re facing armageddon in three weeks, wait until millions more boomers are on the rolls and she has to deal with cuts every. single. year.

Another good question for you: Where does this leave us vis-a-vis the Lightbringer’s (alleged) proposal to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67? That’s not a cut, strictly speaking, but the outcry will be enormous all the same. Is Snowe open to entitlement reform so long as she doesn’t have to call it a cut or is this a pure “hands off Medicare!” pander to seniors ahead of her reelection campaign next year? If it’s the latter, then any deal involving entitlements would start with just 46 votes in the Senate (assuming Collins and Scott Brown stick with the caucus, which is unlikely). How do they pick up 14 Democrats to beat the filibuster, especially when the DNC’s core campaign message next year will be, er, “hands off Medicare”?

Don’t look for members of Maine’s congressional delegation to support cuts in Social Security or Medicare as part of the debt limit legislation, but all four say a debt reduction package that includes budget cuts and new revenues is likely.

“There are solvency problems with both programs,” Sen. Olympia Snowe said in an interview on Friday, “They have to be addressed but not as part of the debt reduction talks.”

She said any debt reduction plan worked out by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders will still need the support of members of both parties and both Medicare and Social Security have strong bipartisan support…

She said she has no idea what will come out of the budget talks but she believes to get enough votes to pass it will have to have cuts in spending and additional revenue.

She wants to raise revenue by closing loopholes, not raising rates, a plan Collins agrees with. Does Collins also agree that entitlements should be off the table right now? The story doesn’t quote her to that effect but the lede sure makes it sound like it. (And it would be in keeping with her skittishness about Ryan’s Path to Prosperity.) If she’s out too, then we start with 45 votes in the Senate. And if Brown, who also opposes Ryan’s plan and is up for reelection, joins them then we’re at 44. What could go wrong?

Oh, in case you’re wondering how this afternoon’s debt-ceiling meeting went, Chuck Todd tweets, “The two sides are farther apart in debt talks than they have been for a while. Some in talks believe this is going no where. #stalemate?” If that’s the narrative in tomorrow’s papers, Wall Street should have an interesting day. ABC goes behind the scenes:

Boehner said at one point that “it’s clear to all of us how big this spending problem is. Congress keeps voting for programs we can’t pay for. But look, entitlement cuts aren’t easy for us to vote for either. Our guys aren’t cheerleading about cutting entitlements.”

“Your guys already voted for them,” the president said, referring to the budget offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

“Excuse us for trying to lead,” Boehner said…

During another exchange, Republicans were going through proposed tax increases as bad for jobs.

“C’mon, man!” Vice President Biden exclaimed, “let’s get real!”

Cantor’s proposal this afternoon totaled $1.7 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, including … $200 billion in Medicare and Medicaid. Where that leaves us vis-a-vis Snowe, Collins, and Brown, I have no idea. The task now is to somehow get to $2.4 trillion, which is the amount they’ll need to raise the debt ceiling by to get through all of next year and beyond the lame duck Congress. Boehner has insisted that total deficit reduction be at least equal to the increase in the debt ceiling, so they need to find $700 billion somewhere. Interestingly, as part of his own Medicare proposal, Obama reportedly wanted $800 billion to $1 trillion in new revenue; if the GOP can get to $700 billion to make this deal, why not try for $800 billion and then call his bluff on Medicare? Make him own that proposal. If nothing else, it’ll be a hedge against Democratic Mediscaring next year.

While you mull, via Bryan Preston, here’s The One flat out admitting today that new taxes are on the way in 2013. Have at it, RNC ad team.