When Barack Obama first launched his health-care reform effort, he had some natural allies among Republicans, and it looked as though a deal could get made — depending, of course, on the terms. After putting Nancy Pelosi in charge of that effort, though, Obama has run his putative Republican allies off the team and onto the other side. Senator Charles Grassley had been among the most publicly committed of Capitol Hill Republicans to hammer out a deal with the Democrats on health care reform, but their lack of give and his constituents’ obvious anger at ObamaCare has him backpedaling:

West Des Moines–In a series of tough town hall meetings on Wednesday, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley defended his work drafting a controversial health care bill, but also seemed to distance himself from the legislation.

“I weren’t doing that the last four or five months I could sit around with my feet up on my desk,” he told a packed meeting in Winterset, Iowa. “You hire me to keep on top of things and I guess I’m a person that believes you are going to be on top of things if you are in the room instead of outside the room.”

Grassley, one of a handful of Republicans working with Democrats to draft a health care proposal, stressed that he would oppose any bill with a government-run plan in it, describing the government as a “predator.”

“Maybe you think well Chuck Grassley is up with that too,” he said. “so let me tell you right out I would not vote for the Kennedy bill [and] I would not vote for the Pelosi bill.”

Grassley came into the meetings with his votes in opposition to the auto bailouts and Porkulus as a shield against most of the wrath that has faced other lawmakers in their town-hall forums. That helped set a calmer tone for Grassley, but as Politico notes, his constituents in Iowa let him know of their unhappiness with the sharp leftward turn of Congress. He held four such meetings yesterday, and apparently he got the message: no deal.

In the video above from Politico, Grassley appears to lay down the tracks for his retreat. The administration has pledged to pass a bill with or without Republican support, setting up the same kind of showdown that they won on Porkulus. Grassley warns Obama that he’s about to back out of negotiations and let Democrats give the old college try — but the ground has changed considerably since then.

First, although Al Franken has taken his seat and given Democrats their 60th vote in the Senate, Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy are almost certain not to be available, so they cannot block a filibuster on a straight party-line vote. Nor can they get a straight party-line vote to pass anything with a public plan in it, with Ben Nelson (D-NE) at least likely to vote against it, and perhaps a few other red-state Democrats worried about voter reaction. They won’t get Susan Collins this time around to cross the aisle, not after she blasted Democrats in advance of Grassley’s comments this week for negotiating in bad faith. Grassley’s actions will probably influence Olympia Snowe as well.

Iowa is known for its populist impulse, but the message that Grassley has gotten in his town halls is the same that’s being delivered across the US. We don’t need a government takeover of health care, nor can we afford it. People have become angry at out-of-control federal government, and politicians are slowly but surely getting that message.