Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kans.) told reporters on Wednesday that opposition to the president's health care package was driven, in part, by knee-jerk partisanship and he urged Congressional Republicans to consider backing a version of reform.
The 1996 Republican presidential candidate also predicted, following a speech at a health care reform summit in Kansas, that "there will be a signing ceremony" for a reform bill sometime this year or early in 2010.
But the comments that seem likely to create the most ripples were those that dealt with Congressional opposition to the White House. Dole, according to reports, framed the pushback to Barack Obama's reform agenda as almost perfunctory in nature.
"Sometimes people fight you just to fight you," he said, according to The Kansas City Star. "They don't want Reagan to get it, they don't want Obama to get it, so we've got to kill it..."
"Health care is one of those things," he added. "Now we've got to do something."
In a statement to the Huffington Post, an aide to the former majority leader clarified that Dole "believed there is an opportunity to do something on health care" but that he wasn't urging Republicans to simply get on board a final package.
"He talked about bipartisanship and its relation to the major pieces of legislation with which he has been involved," said Mike Marshall, a spokesman for the former senator. "He has not endorsed any bill or told anyone to get on board any bill. He has just said what he has been saying, which is that he believes Congress should work this out in a bipartisan way. He would like Republicans to stay engaged on the issue."
Dole's comments come at a time when other major GOP figures - all from outside Washington - have also urged the party to approach the issue of health care in a more collaborative matter. The list includes California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. But Dole's remarks went a bit further- not just lamenting the lack of bipartisan compromise on reform but calling out individuals inside his own party.
"We're already hearing from some high-ranking Republicans that we shouldn't do that. That's helping the president," Dole said, according to local reports. He later would point to a "very prominent Republican, who happens to be the Republican leader of the Senate" -- Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- as his reference.
Dole said he did not know what a final health care bill would look like, even though he was confident it would make it to the president's desk. But just hours after he spoke, reports began to surface that Republicans in Congress were moving closer to accepting a key tenet of the Democratic agenda. As reported by RedState.com's Erick Erickson:
I am told quite reliably that in a meeting today on Capitol Hill, Republican Senators began to rapidly move toward concessions on health care because they are afraid they cannot hold their members. Some Republicans are now thinking of supporting a government program.
UPDATE: Sen. McConnell's office, in a statement to the Huffington Post, dismissed reports that Senate Republicans are poised to back a public option.
"There are no GOP Senators calling for a government plan, or for other proposals such as cutting a half-trillion dollars from Medicare, raising premiums or increasing taxes on working families, that Democrat leaders are calling for," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for the Senator.