NOTE: Tomorrow (Wednesday, 3/24) at 11am, I will be delivering a petition signed by at least 35,000 Americans in just four days asking Senator Bennet to follow through on his promise and introduce a public option amendment. I am asking as many people in the Denver metro area to be there with me at Bennet's office at 2300 15th Street in Denver. I hope to see you there.
Facing an increasingly difficult Democratic primary challenge, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) has spent the last many weeks trumpeting himself as the Senate's main champion of the public option, issuing a letter demanding a reconciliation vote on the public option. For this, he has - deservedly - received a lot of laudatory press coverage, including from me on my AM760 radio show and in my syndicated newspaper column. For his efforts, he garnered praise from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and positive stories like this one in the Denver Post in February:
Sen. Bennet pushing reconciliation vote; public option
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is pressing colleagues to use a procedural tool known as reconciliation to pass stalled health reform legislation -- and to include the controversial public insurance option in the bill.
This week, Senator Bennet will have the opportunity to offer the public option amendment in the 51-vote reconciliation environment - that is, the environment in which it has the best chance to pass. However, Sen. Bennet's staff is now saying that Bennet will not, in fact, offer the public option amendment.
Yesterday, with Bennet's primary challenger Andrew Romanoff (D) demanding Bennet follow through on his public-option promise, Politico reported that his campaign manager suggested Bennet would not offer the amendment because "we're not going (to) kill the bill to make a point." Today in the Denver Post, his Senate spokeswoman "that trying to fix the bill at this point is too risky" and that offering the public option amendment would "recklessly sacrifice this bill while tens of thousands of Coloradans are losing their health insurance and seniors are facing critical decisions about their medication."
These are tough-sounding words - except there's just one problem: I just received a fundraising letter from Sen. Michael Bennet following President Obama's signing of the health care bill - a letter that that accurately notes that "Health Care is Law." This letter says:
The passage of this bill is one of the biggest legislative accomplishments in generations. It will have a massive impact on millions of lives and will pave the way for future, better, reform. We should savor this victory, even if there are parts of the bill that are far from perfect.
In fact, the most disappointing part of this bill for me is something that isn't in it -- a public option. With this first hurdle now behind us, I will continue to push for new legislation, such as a public option, that improves our health care system.
So let's get this straight: The major portion of health care reform has indeed passed - I repeat: THE MAJOR PORTION OF HEALTH CARE REFORM HAS INDEED PASSED, AS EVIDENCED BY THE BIG SIGNING CEREMONY TODAY; Sen. Bennet is celebrating it's passage; he is stating that "the most disappointing part of this bill" is that it doesn't include a public option and he promises that he "will continue to push for a public option." And yet, even as he promises to "continue to push" for a public option, he is refusing to offer a public option amendment right now when it has the best chance of passing (ie. only needing 51 votes, rather than 60 later), somehow claiming that offering a public option amendment to a separate reconciliation "fix" bill would kill a bill that he acknowledges has already passed..
My guess is Bennet is following the Democratic leadership's orders not to offer any amendments - as the leadership is trying to prevent the separate reconciliation bill from having to be voted on again in the House (even though the House, of course, has already proven it has the votes for a public option when it passed one months ago). But, then, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is now predicting that some Republican amendments may pass and therefore be added to the separate Senate reconciliation bill, meaning that bill will likely be forced to go back to the House anyway. In other words, even the process rationale for Bennet not to offer the amendment - "we don't want to have to send it back to the House" - is likely out the window because the bill will be sent back to the House anyway.
So what is really going on here? Increasingly, it looks like Bennet is trying to trick Colorado Democratic primary voters and appease the insurance industry at the same time. To voters, he wants to look like he's a champion of the public option. But in order to prevent offending the insurance industry, he is refusing to even offer the public option legislation when it has the best chance of passing - that is, in the 51-vote reconciliation environment. Instead, he says he'll "continue to push it" later - of course, later is when it will need 60 votes which both he and the insurance industry knows will be all but impossible to achieve.
The real question is whether or not Colorado voters will be fooled? It's hard to say. But if he really doesn't offer the amendment, it is a blatant admission by Bennet that the fix was in from the get go - that his letter on the public option that he got so much press attention for was all kabuki theater.
I'm still hoping Bennet offers the public option amendment. I mean that honestly - I'm not just saying that. I've gotten the sense that he's a guy who wants to do the right thing - but we're going to have to see if he's willing to offend the Washington Establishment to put action behind his public-option words. Stay tuned - and sign the petition demanding he follow through.
Follow David Sirota on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidsirota