Wall Street Journal, lead editorial from Sept. 30, 2010

Republicans are promising to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare, and more than a few Democrats seem to be running on—or at least from—the same issue. And it’s a good campaign platform given the rising unpopularity and toxic side effects of one of the worst pieces of legislation Congress has ever passed.

But with a few notable exceptions, the wider GOP doesn’t seem to comprehend how difficult it will be to pursue this agenda in practice, even if the party does return to the majority in the House and Senate. Which is why we want to underscore a new campaign to ensure that “repeal and replace” is something more than a political slogan.

The “repeal pledge” is a project modeled after the famous taxpayer-protection pledge of Americans for Tax Reform, under which incumbents and candidates make a public promise to vote against tax increases. The tax pledge debuted in 1986 with the endorsement of Ronald Reagan and has helped to steel opposition to antigrowth policies. The repeal pledge aims to do the same for ObamaCare.

Efforts like these can be gimmicks, though when well done they educate the public and encourage politicians to commit to specific policy goals while drawing bright-line contrasts with their opponents. Pledges also help define electoral mandates. The 2010 campaign is already a referendum on the Obama Presidency, but if the repeal pledge gains currency it would allow voters to remonstrate this bill in particular and add momentum to the “repeal and replace” movement.

Launched a week ago by the nonprofit outfits Independent Women’s Voice and American Majority Action, the repeal pledge has been signed so far by 43 Republicans. Its sponsors are about to name a board of outside policy experts to evaluate all votes and let the public track how Members shake out on health care. The pledge applies beyond repeal per se to interim steps like discharge petitions to allow certain up-or-down votes in Congress on partial repeal, stripping funding from some ObamaCare subsidy or enforcement programs, and repealing certain regulations.

Dismembering ObamaCare limb by limb is probably the best, and perhaps the only, political strategy for at least the next two years. Meanwhile, many Republicans may figure that the path of least political resistance will be to hold a symbolic vote on repeal and claim victory, even if it is filibustered in the Senate or vetoed by President Obama. Republicans are also notoriously fractious on health policy and will need outside pressure if they ever do get around to the “replace” part.

The hard political slog ahead could use an accountability tool like the repeal pledge. Realistically, the health-care bill won’t be unwound as long as Mr. Obama is in office, so the Republican goal should be to do some modest good in the meantime and keep the issue a running controversy through 2012 and beyond. Democrats are determined to defend every part of ObamaCare no matter how destructive—witness their recent safe-harbor for the 1099 business reporting mandate—and they’re banking on Republican inertia.

Republicans should recognize the opportunity they’ve been handed. According to this week’s Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, 40% of the public strongly supports repeal, and another 11% is generally in favor. CNN also found this week that 47% believes “Congress should repeal most of the major provisions in that bill and replace them with a completely different set of proposals,” a view that has held steady since Democrats passed the bill in March.

The larger GOP opportunity is to pursue genuine health-care reform now that the public has so decisively rejected the entitlement model that Democrats have favored for several political generations. That begins with unraveling ObamaCare, and we hope the repeal pledge will help the cause.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704116004575522381254724778.html?KEYWORDS=pledge