Nancy Pelosi may have been all smiles on Saturday, but the difficulties encountered in her full-court press on the ObamaCare bill will only get worse, the AP reports this morning.  The AP declares the public option dead, thanks to skeptical Democrats, and Joe Lieberman pledges to stop the bill from coming to the floor with one included.  The LA Times concurs:

House approval of legislation Saturday — even if Democrats can move it no further — was an accomplishment that has eluded presidents for decades. But the close vote and the exertions it took to secure a majority were laden with warning signs as the issue moves to the Senate.

Even though the House is a bastion of liberalism, the healthcare overhaul was a tougher sell than expected and the bill turned out to be more conservative in its price tag, more limited in the scope of its government-run insurance option and tighter in its restrictions on abortion funding than many Democrats had hoped.

Moreover, the narrow victory — 220 to 215 in a chamber where Democrats hold 258 seats — was unsettling for liberals because moderate Democrats have a louder voice in the Senate and Republicans have more stalling power.

What is more, the political climate has become more challenging for progressivism than it was when Obama’s agenda for change was launched in his 2008 presidential campaign and ratified with his resounding election one year ago.

What changed?  The rise of unemployment to 10.2% has certainly dashed a lot of cold water on big-spending plans like ObamaCare and cap-and-trade.  The idea that the elections presented a mandate for progressivism is questionable, anyway; Barack Obama hardly campaigned in the general election as a progressive, presenting himself instead as a post-partisan, pragmatic moderate.  Only after he took office did he allow Nancy Pelosi to run away with his domestic agenda to the radical extent she did.

Even Democrats are balking, as Lieberman’s ultimatum demonstrates:

But Sen. Joe Lieberman wasted no time in saying he can’t support the public insurance plan in the House bill.

If a government plan is part of the deal, “as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent whose vote Democrats need to overcome GOP filibusters.

“The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.

Democrats did not line up to challenge him. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has yet to schedule floor debate and hinted last week that senators may not be able to finish health care this year.

The Democrats can’t afford to pull a conference committee switcheroo here, either.  If the Senate passes a bill without a public option and a conference committee puts it back in (while stripping the Stupak amendment), it will get filibustered with the assistance of Lieberman and perhaps a handful of red-state Democrats.  That will be especially true if the conference report comes back in 2010, an election year in which Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and others will have to explain themselves to center-right voters.

But what happens if a conference report comes back without a public option, and with the Stupak amendment intact?  Pelosi won’t have enough votes to support it in the House, either.  What can’t pass the House is the only option to pass the Senate, and vice versa.  The LA Times understands the conundrum facing Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill, even if Reid and Pelosi don’t — or don’t want to admit it.