GRASSLEY’S PRINCIPLE-FREE OPPOSITION…. Given his record, we’re well past the point of expecting intellectual seriousness or consistency from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). But his take on an individual mandate as part of health care reform is pretty striking, even for him.

Victor Zapanta reported yesterday on Grassley’s latest stand. The senator was asked whether he might consider supporting health care reform if Democrats satisfied his concerns about funds for abortion and coverage for undocumented workers. Grassley said he’d oppose reform anyway, because of the individual mandate.

“[T]here are other points as well, but let me mention other points that you didn’t mention. And one would be the individual mandate, which for the first time would have a federal penalty against people who don’t have health insurance…. I’m very reluctant to go along with an individual mandate.”

So, for Chuck Grassley, an individual mandate is a deal-breaker. No matter what other concessions Democrats are willing to make in the name of compromise and in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, the Iowa conservative believes the mandate is just too much.

At least, that’s what he believes now. As recently as August, Grassley argued the way to get universal coverage is “through an individual mandate.” He told Nightly Business report, “That’s individual responsibility, and even Republicans believe in individual responsibility.”

In June, Grassley was even clearer. He said “there isn’t anything wrong with” an individual mandate, and compared it to laws requiring Americans to have car insurance. “Everybody has some health insurance costs,” the conservative senator said, “and if you aren’t insured, there’s no free lunch.”

Grassley added, in unambiguous terms, “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates.”

Read that sentence again.

Democrats moved forward with reform efforts, taking Grassley at his word. Just a few months later, however, Grassley has concluded that he’s not only against individual mandates, he considers them a deal-breaker. And remember, as far as Senate Republicans are concerned, Grassley was the lead negotiator on working towards some kind of consensus on the legislation.

Why is “bipartisan” health care reform impossible? Because leading GOP lawmakers like Chuck Grassley oppose the measures they support.

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.