INCREMENTALISM VS. COMPREHENSIVE CHANGE…. On health care, a key GOP talking point, outside concerns over process, is more of a meta observation: “comprehensive” approaches to public policy are fundamentally misguided.

Lamar Alexander has been a leading voice on the Republican side for incrementalism. His argument is that the White House erred by trying to pass such a big, sweeping reform bill, and so Democrats and Republicans should instead get together and pass popular parts of reform, one piece at a time. Analysts have pointed out that many reform ideas don’t really work on their own; they have to be passed altogether in order to make the system work.

Right. There are plenty of parts to reform, but they’re inter-locking. It’s easy to say we’ll take some steps now, and leave others for later, but to make it so that those with pre-existing conditions aren’t discriminated against, for example, we’ll need mandates and subsidies. It’s like an engine — the parts don’t work unless they’re part of a larger whole.

What’s interesting, though, is that Republicans used to understand this — not in some previous generation, but very recently. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said over the summer that “comprehensive” reform is “long overdue.”

Around the same time, Republican Sens. Grassley, Kyl, and Enzi agreed that they support moving on a “comprehensive, inclusive” package.

Republicans have discovered that “comprehensive” is suddenly something to avoid, but they only came to that conclusion after the House and Senate already passed reform.

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.