Can the GOP Actually Run on Repealing?

The response was swift. Within hours of the Senate passing the agreed-upon version of the financial-reform bill, Republicans turned on their messaging machine. “We would like to repeal it,” Alabama’s Sen. Richard Shelby told Good Morning America. Over on the House side, Minority Leader John Boehner, speaking to a group of reporters, said just as much. “I think it ought to be repealed.”

It’s becoming a familiar refrain as the Democrats tick off items on their legislative agenda. First health care, now Wall Street reform. If the Democrats pass anything resembling a carbon cap with an energy bill this summer, even limited to just the top polluters, Republicans would almost certainly attempt to nix that one too.

It makes sense. The party that fought both measures until the very end would naturally want to strike them both from the federal record. And sure, conservative voters need to hear from the reps in Washington that the bills they hate won’t become law quietly. But is it good politics?

Not quite. For two reasons. First, both bills are decently popular and repeal is not. A Bloomberg poll released this week shows 61 percent of voters oppose repealing health care. That’s because the key opposition during the debates on health care and financial reform came from industry heads and lobbyists, not nearly as much from grassroots groups. The provisions in each bill are designed to protect voters, not large companies. So while calling for repeal might win the favor of those large companies and checkbooks, it’s pretty unrealistic to think a majority of the electorate will come around to hating either law. At least not before November.

And the second reason: it simply won’t happen. Repealing a bill is rare because it’s so difficult. Reversing the bill would take another coalition of 60, but since President Obama would undoubtedly veto a bill trying to kneecap his signature legislation, Republicans would actually need a veto-proof 67 to get it done. Considering they now have only 41, it’s certifiably impossible to get there anytime soon.

Of course all of this changes if Republicans win both Congressional majorities and then the White House in 2012. But running on repealing laws without offering formidable ideas to replace them seems to make that a tall order.