Colorado Senator Michael Bennet first circulated a letter to his colleagues in the Senate to “save the public option.” He and 23 other Senators wrote to Majority Leader Harry Reid and asked that the public option be inserted into the reconciliation package for health reform.  Another two dozen Senators expressed public support for a public option if it came to a vote.

But now that Bernie Sanders has backed down on offering a public option amendment, another Senator needs to step up to the plate.  After leading online activists and almost half his caucus to “save the public option,” it should be a no-brainer for Michael Bennet to show he’s a true leader and offer the public option amendment for a vote.

Unfortunately, it looks like Bennet is trying to weasel out of supporting the public option:  Politico spoke with his campaign manager just now:

Bennet campaign manager Craig Hughes dismissed Romanoff’s message, telling POLITICO: “Issuing a press release is not leadership.”

“Andrew has repeatedly suggested he would have joined the Republican filibuster of health care reform in December and the House would never have had the opportunity to pass this critical legislation,” Hughes said. “What we’re not going to do is kill the bill to make a point.”

Andrew Romanoff, in a chat tonight on Firedoglake, responded to Bennet’s campaign:

That makes no sense. The bill they’re referring to is headed to the President’s desk. It will be signed into law tomorrow. Restoring the public option would strengthen health care reform. Leadership means more than making a speech or writing a letter — it means taking a stand, even if the leaders of your party aren’t ready to stand with you.

The only thing I’d add is that Bennet shouldn’t question Romanoff’s leadership, when Bennet’s abandoning his own.  Let’s look at how much Bennet is walking back.

When Bennet first launched his campaign for the public option, here’s what he wrote:

Including a public option in our final health care reform legislation will make that bill far more effective.

Reforming health care will curb runaway costs and save vast sums of money — savings that will be increased by billions of dollars if we include a public option. According to the CBO, the public option would not only be budget-neutral, it could actually reduce our deficit by $130 billion in just the first 10 years.

Just as important to me is what I’ve learned while listening to the stories of people across Colorado: our working families want a public option — and need a public option — because there aren’t enough real choices available for them when picking their health insurance. [...]

We need to put consumers in charge by giving them more choices and ending these shameful practices that work for insurance companies, but not for people in Colorado and across the country. The current health care reform bill is a historic first step in extending coverage and controlling costs, but we need to take the final step to include a public option. [...]

With majorities in the House and the Senate, we can use the reconciliation process to include a public option in the final bill. The reconciliation process has been used for just this kind of urgent, publicly-mandated legislation before: it was used when we passed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare Advantage, and the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA).

Those are powerful words in support of the public option, and clearly show that Bennet was in full support of using reconciliation for the public option.  If Bennet doesn’t live up to these words, it’s clear they were for cheap political points.  His opponent in the Colorado Senate primary, Andrew Romanoff, has the same concern.  Romanoff said he was “deeply disappointed to learn that no member of the U.S. Senate is willing to offer an amendment to restore the public option to the health care bill,” and went on to call on Senate leadership to have an “up or down vote.”  His campaign staff adds:

Bennet has spent the last month and a half touting his letter demanding a public option – and getting a lot of press for that move But now, thanks to Romanoff’s demand, he will have to put up or shut up. If he refuses to offer the amendment, he shows his past efforts to be kabuki theater – grandstanding for attention while refusing to actually take the steps necessary to do what he publicly claims he wants to do.

Let’s be clear one more time : health insurance reform has already passed.  President Obama will sign the legislation into law at any time.  Anything that’s done in Congress during this next stage will simply fix what will already be the law.  Adding a public option to these fixes won’t endanger passage of reform in the House, because that’s already over.  A majority of the Senate has said they’d vote for a public option.  A whopping 60% of Coloradans support a public option.  There’s no reason for Bennet not to force a vote on the issue.

More than 25,000 people have already signed our petition to Michael Bennet to force a vote on the public option.  We’ll deliver it to his office in Denver on Wednesday, the last day that he can submit an amendment for debate in the Senate.  Click here to add your name.