FRIST WOULD VOTE FOR DEM REFORM BILL…. Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has, at times, played a useful role in the debate over health care reform. For example, in June, Frist defended the notion of passing a bill through the reconciliation process: “[Reconciliation is] legal, it’s ethical, you can do it.”

A few weeks ago, Frist, a thoracic surgeon, again bolstered Democratic measures, endorsing an individual mandate.

Yesterday afternoon, the former Senate Republican Leader told Time‘s Karen Tumulty that he’d even vote for the Democratic proposal, if he were still in the chamber.

Were he still in the Senate, “I would end up voting for it,” he said. “As leader, I would take heat for it. … That’s what leadership is all about.”

While he raised some specific concerns about the plan, Frist also reiterated his support for individual mandates, and criticized GOP some central arguments against reform as “overblown.”

Jonathan Cohn had a good contextual observation: “For those keeping a tally, that’s three former Republican Senate Majority Leaders who have endorsed the sorts of reforms President Obama and his allies are pushing. Previously, Howard Baker and Bob Dole signed on to a plan they negotiated with Tom Daschle and George Mitchell, former Democratic counterparts, through the auspices of the Bipartisan Policy Center.”

That said, Ezra Klein was less impressed with Frist’s comments, noting how easy it is for the former senator to “say they’ll buck overwhelming partisan pressure and take politically treacherous risks in service of progress on America’s toughest issues.” Frist wasn’t nearly so courageous when he was actually serving the public.

And while that’s certainly true, I’m inclined to welcome Frist’s endorsement anyway. For frustrating reasons I can’t fully understand, the public seems to prefer bills that enjoy bipartisan support. Dems are finding it nearly impossible to find GOP lawmakers willing to listen to reason, which makes it all the more important to point to any high-profile Republicans who support Democratic health care reform proposals.

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.