Republicans for reform

REPUBLICANS FOR REFORM…. It’s an extremely small group, but Time‘s Karen Tumulty notes the GOP contingent that likes what Democrats are up to on health care reform.

Okay, maybe it’s not enough to call a groundswell. But after former Majority Leader Bill Frist told me last Friday that he would end up voting for the bill were he still in Congress (with some caveats about the shortcomings of the legislative language as it now stands), we’ve heard from some other GOP voices in support of the basic contours of Barack Obama’s health care reform effort: Bush Administration HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who ran as a Republican, but who is now an independent)* and Mark McClellan, who ran both the Food and Drug Administration and the Medicare and Medicaid programs under George W. Bush.

Others are noticing, too. Mike Allen’s widely-read “Playbook” feature in Politico included a headline this morning that read, “Tommy Thompson, Frist, Bloomberg give momentum to health care…. Non-Dem Support Builds For Health Reform.”

And as long as we’re counting GOP heads here, it’s probably worth noting that former Republican Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker and Bob Dole have also “endorsed the sorts of reforms President Obama and his allies are pushing.”

Now, as a practical matter, these endorsements probably don’t mean much. It’s a very modest number of people. Moreover, Frist, Thompson, Bloomberg, McClellan, Baker, and Dole have varying degrees of influence in Republican circles, but not one of them will have a vote when reform comes to the floors of Congress.

But I like the larger framing of this anyway. For one thing, the public, for frustrating reasons I can’t fully understand, seems to want a bill with “bipartisan” backing. When high-profile Republicans express tacit support for Democratic efforts, it can help with public perceptions.

For another, it positions congressional Republicans as outside the mainstream. If several notable GOP officials are stepping up to endorse reform efforts, and Republicans on the Hill resist, it makes the lawmakers seem petty and overly partisan.

It reminds me a bit of the presidential campaign when a wide variety of Republicans — including Ronald Reagan’s national security advisor, solicitor general, and White House chief of staff — endorsed Obama. It undermined GOP arguments that the Democrat was some kind of dangerous radical — if he were a liberal extremist, why were so many prominent Republicans supporting him?

The same is true here. If health care reform is such a radical idea, why are relatively high profile non-Democrats endorsing the effort?

Update: As I was hitting “publish,” an email arrived in my inbox: “Schwarzenegger Endorses Obama Health Care Effort.” The list, in other words, is growing.