MIXED MESSAGES…. For the most part, congressional Republicans haven’t played a constructive role in the debate over health care reform, but they’ve been impressive when it comes to message discipline. Their attacks have been dishonest, ridiculous, and occasionally both, but they’ve had a clear line and they’ve stuck to it.

It’s why the sudden lapses seem so odd.

For example, since July, GOP leaders have consistently said Democratic reform plans were a complete mess, unworthy of consideration. Every Republican official within earshot of a reporter used phrases like “hit the reset button,” “start from scratch,” “scrap and start over,” etc. Recently, however, two House Republican leaders have said they’re on board with 80% of what Democrats have in mind. It makes the reset-button tack seem rather silly.

Similarly, GOP officials and their allies would have Americans believe Democratic reform proposals exclude any and all ideas from Republicans. Except, they’re not sticking to that line, either.

Even if no GOP votes materialize, [Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus] has cleared the way for Democrats to claim that Republicans had a fair shot at shaping what could become the biggest government-led expansion of health coverage since Medicare was created in 1965.

“This bill, except for the five to 10 things that weren’t resolved, has been put together with some Republican input,” Grassley said.

That’s … absolutely true. But it’s not at all the message Republicans want to push right now.

As Greg Sargent, who called Grassley’s comments “very significant,” explained, this is an admission that “will make it tougher for Republicans to claim Dems didn’t opt for a bipartisan approach on health care.”

Grassley is, Greg added, “openly acknowledging that the GOP has had ‘input’ into the bill, which Dems can point to in order to argue that they pursued bipartisanship in good faith, even if they were unable to reach bipartisan agreement.”

Expect to hear of this in the coming weeks. The White House has been pondering for some time now how to spin the lack of Republican votes, and still claim that the bill is broad and bipartisan. The rare, honest concession from Grassley will make the rhetorical sales pitch easier.

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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.