REMEMBER THE PUBLIC OPTION?…. Even after Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) forced the removal of the public option from the health care reform package last year, proponents of the idea said the setback was temporary. The popular measure, generating competition between private and public insurance, would return, again and again.

As it turns out, it’s returning right now.

At a time when both political parties are worrying about the federal deficit, an unexpected and unorthodox proposal is coming back from the shadows of last year’s health-care debate the “public option.” The idea of creating a major government health insurance program was roundly rejected last year, but the 128 House Democrats pushing to reconsider the idea are now advancing the argument that it would help hold down federal spending.

Their bill, which faces long odds, would allow Americans who do not get insurance at work to choose a government plan for their health coverage starting in 2014.

“There is all this concern about the deficit,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a leading champion of the proposal. “Well, guess what, this would reduce the deficit because it saves so much money.”

Why, yes, as a matter of fact it does. When policymakers were weighing provisions of the legislation that would produce savings, one of the most effective measures was always the public option. For conservatives, however, the debate was always more about ideology than pragmatism.

But if deficit reduction continues to dominate much of the public discussion, public option advocates have a new pitch: the CBO believes the idea could save the federal government $68 billion between 2014 an 2020.

Deficit hawks consistently say lawmakers are going to have to accept some choices they don’t want to make in order to get the deficit under control. Well, what do they have to say about $68 billion in savings from an idea that most of the country consistently loved during the health care debate?

Even proponents don’t expect action on this in the coming months, but Woolsey vowed to keep fighting for the idea. Good.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.