THE AMA COMES AROUND…. About a month ago, the American Medical Association announced that it would oppose any health care reform effort that included a public option. This was not unexpected — the AMA has a lengthy record of opposing reform, and has resisted major effort for generations. Sam Stein recently noted, “The group’s reputation on this matter is so notorious that historians pinpoint it with creating the ominous sounding phrase “socialized medicine” in the early decades of the 1900s.”

With that in mind, this was not at all what I expected to see this week.

The American Medical Association just sent a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, endorsing the health reform proposal put forward by three House committees. […]

Recent signals from the AMA suggested they were reluctant to embrace reform, in no small part because they believed a public insurance option would underpay them. But the AMA letter contains no caveats. It is a straightforward endorsement.

And that makes it a pretty big deal. No, the AMA is not as powerful, nor as representative of the medical community, as it once was. But an unqualified endorsement for the most liberal plan out there has large symbolic value, given the role AMA played in killing health care reform for most of the 20th Century.

In his letter to Rangel, Dr. Michael D. Maves, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the AMA, concludes, “This year, the AMA wants the debate in Washington to conclude with real, long overdue results that will improve the health of America’s patients.”

Jonathan Cohn has more on the details, specifically on the AMA’s hopes to change the Sustainable Growth Rate formula in Medicare, but in terms of political salience, it’s bound to help proponents of reform note that in successive days, the Democratic plan has been endorsed by the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association. That the AMA was expected to be an opponent — and has always resisted reform efforts — makes this all the more significant.

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.