DOLE ENDORSES REFORM, SMACKS MCCONNELL…. In the early 1990s, then-Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) helped kill health care reform. Fifteen years later, Dole may not be in Congress anymore, but he’s playing a more constructive role on the issue.

Bob Dole, the one-time Republican leader in the Senate, and Tom Daschle, the one-time Democratic leader, issued a joint statement today in which they said they supported the Democrats’ attempt to overhaul the health-care system.

“The American people have waited decades, and if this moment passes us by, it may be decades more before there is another opportunity,” the two former leaders said in a joint statement.

Mr. Dole told reporters earlier in the day in Kansas that the current Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, had asked him not to lend his support to the Democratic effort.

According to an account in The Kansas City Star, Mr. Dole said that he had been approached by the Mr. McConnell and asked not to issue a statement calling for passage of a health-care reform bill.

“We’re already hearing from some high-ranking Republicans that we shouldn’t do that — that’s helping the president,” Mr. Dole said. He added that these included one “very prominent Republican, who happens to be the Republican leader of the Senate.”

Well, isn’t that interesting. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.), ostensibly the GOP leaders who Dems are supposed to be reaching out to, is more interested in undercutting the president than passing worthwhile legislation for the country. Who would have guessed?

As for Dole, the Kansan added, “I want this to pass…. I don’t agree with everything Obama is presenting, but we’ve got to do something…. I don’t want the Republicans putting up a ‘no’ sign and saying, ‘we’re not open for business.’”

Dole’s remarks put him in a growing group of Republicans who are, to varying degrees, supportive of the ongoing reform efforts. Just over the last week, we’ve seen either endorsements or tacit support from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Bush HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Bush CMS chief Mark McClellan, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (a Republican turned independent).

To be sure, none of these guys will have a vote when reform comes to the floor. But this recent trend nevertheless matters. The growing-but-informal “Republicans for Reform” gives the larger effort a meaningful boost — making reform appear more bipartisan, giving cover to centrist Dems, painting GOP lawmakers as petty obstructionists, and making it that much more difficult to characterize reform as some kind of radical liberal idea.

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.