The list of high-profile, outside-the-beltway Republicans backing an overhaul of the healthcare system is raising eyebrows.
• New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (technically an independent, but he's running for reelection on the Republican and Independence Party tickets).
• Tommy Thompson, former secretary of Health and Human Services.
The White House freely acknowledges that it nudged most of these men – Frist came out on his own – toward making public statements. But just as freely, they did say what they said.
The wave of endorsements has already gotten through to one of its most important targets, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine. She is the only Republican member of Congress potentially willing to vote for the Senate Finance Committee's version of reform.
"It is important to hear all voices in the party," she said Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. "The more we hear, the more we learn, the better job we can do in the final analysis."
The Senate Finance plan, which is awaiting a cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and is the least liberal of the five bills in play, is the one that comes in for the most praise from Republicans.
Mr. Frist told Time magazine last Friday if he were still in the Senate, he "would end up voting for it." He doesn't think it's perfect; it doesn't do enough to bring costs under control, he says. But he likes the requirement that individuals purchase insurance, and the ban on exclusion from coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Mayor Bloomberg does not endorse any particular plan, just the overall concept of reform working its way through Congress. Mr. Thompson mentioned the Senate Finance plan specifically. Governor Schwarzenegger endorsed the goals of reform, but not a specific plan.
Congressional Republicans maintain that they want reform, too, just not the plan Democrats are promoting. In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said Democratic plans would raise taxes on the middle class and expand government control of the healthcare system.
Some Democrats see the endorsements as a reaction to the hot rhetoric of the summer, and that as the reform effort moves toward its conclusion, cooler heads are moving to the fore.
"It could be one of those things where time may be on Obama's side – that people sort through all the yelling and screaming and say, [Obama] is trying to do the right thing here," says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.
From a partisan perspective, it may also be that some Republicans are calculating that if reform passes, the implementation could be messy – to the Democrats' political detriment.
In his Time interview, Frist predicted that reform would pass and that the first years of implementation are likely to be rough. "The Republicans will go wild," he said, suggesting his party could gain politically in 2010.
Mr. Fenn agrees the implementation will be tricky, but he thinks the Obama administration is up to the task. "My sense of this all along has been that this will be a process," he says.
What would a Republican healthcare plan look like?
Republicans have put forward their healthcare ideas, though most have been rejected. Click here to read what they are.
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