Every once in a while, President Barack Obama decides to confound Republicans and combat his image as an anti-capitalist by presenting himself as an advocate for business.

The latest example: his announcement on Friday that he will give Cabinet rank to the head of the Small Business Administration. The decision got good reviews — especially in Maine, since the small business agency’s current boss is Mainer Karen Mills.

Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe and Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud immediately endorsed the idea, Snowe calling the move “a clear signal that small business will drive our nation out of this recession.”

Snowe is the ranking GOP member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and a longtime advocate of elevating the SBA administrator to Cabinet level.

The significance of the president’s announcement is not entirely clear, however, because he also proposed a consolidation of six departments — including the Small Business Administration — for the purpose of streamlining government and saving money. Obama said merging the departments would help businesses by reducing the bureaucratic maze they must wade through when dealing with the federal government.

Republicans get nervous when Obama starts acting like a pro-business president because if he’s sincere about cutting government and reducing burdensome bureaucracy then he’s neutralizing two of his opponents’ favorite criticisms of him: that he is determined to increase the size and scope of government, and that he is no friend of the business community.

Republicans aren’t quite ready to accept the president’s sincerity, of course. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, was quoted by the Associated Press:

“American small businesses are more concerned about this administration’s policies than from which building in Washington they originate. We hope the president isn’t simply proposing new packaging for the same burdensome approach.”

We hope so, too.

But even if Obama’s motives are purely political, his proposal looks like a step in the right direction. We urge Republicans to suppress their skepticism and get on board with his plan.