What’s up with ObamaCare? If anyone really knows, they are not saying, leading to the speculation summed up by political scientist Jonathan Bernstein:

I think the problem is that the evidence fits two completely opposite stories. Story one, the cheerful one for opponents of health care reform, is that the bill is dead, but that Democrats loath to disappoint supporters have decided to go through the motions of trying to find a Plan B, or C, or X, Y, Z. Story two is the opposite. Story two is that health care reform is moving along towards a successful conclusion (that is: pass and patch), but that everyone has decided that getting the negotiations out of the spotlight is a good idea. That wouldn’t, by the way, be unusual. It may seem that health care reform dominated the political news from July through the middle of January, but that’s not actually true; there were several (media) dead spots in which negotiations were taking place with little news leaking, or everyone sat around waiting for a CBO score, or the next action was scheduled but hadn’t yet taken place.

Count Lawrence O’Donnell — former Democratic Hill staffer turned MSNBC pundit — in the first camp:

“We’re absolutely in full fake cheerleading mode. I think Nancy Pelosi has absolutely no moves left. I think she knows that now. I think Harry Reid knows that. And that’s why they don’t bring it up,” he said. “They had a Senate leadership press conference (Thursday) and it was as if (reporters) were asking about World War I” when they asked about reform.

On the other hand, the L.A. Times reports that Congressional leaders have nearly settled on a strategy to salvage the attempted takeover of the U.S. healthcare system. The most amusing obstacle to this backroom plotting is the problem of trying to amend the Senate bill before it’s signed into law, as some House Democrats want.

The only safe conclusion is that the Democrats are, at some level, still trying to pass ObamaCare, including the politically risky step returning it to the front burner closer to the election. But O’Donnell’s memories of the demise of ClintonCare are instructive:

In 1994, Senate Democrats brought a health reform bill to the floor that Republicans successfully picked apart with targeted amendments that made Democratic no-votes politically impossible. After about a week, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell pulled the bill from the floor saying they would tackle it again after recess, O’Donnell said.

When they returned, Democratic senators huddled for weeks in backroom meetings, struggling to find a workable alternative. Some of the attempts, he said, were genuine while others were cynical smokescreens only designed to demonstrate forward progress. After four or five weeks, the effort was abandoned as Democrats geared up for the mid-term elections.

That is ClintonCare backer Paul Starr’s memory, too. The lesson here is that time is the enemy of ObamaCare. Then again, time has always been the enemy of ObamaCare.