The Matter of Bachmann’s Record

Monday, Matt Lewis wrote a piece for The Daily Caller that received a lot of attention concerning Michele Bachmann’s record. He covered some territory regarding the congresswoman’s background that had until now, gone unnoticed and unreported in most conservative circles. In fact, Lewis begins the last paragraph in his column by saying:

To be sure, most of Bachmann’s potential problems and challenges have been reported in the past, but they are not widely known by grassroots conservatives.

Conservatives appreciate Michele Bachmann because she speaks their language on many issues. However, saying the right things only matters if your words match your actions. Unlike the liberals of 2008, conservatives are far too smart to nominate a potential presidential candidate on rhetoric alone. A politician can say they are against government excess and waste, and preach about reform, but what have they ever done while in office to prove it? What does Michele Bachmann’s record say about her, above and beyond the speeches to the base?

Lewis’ piece breaks down many aspects of Bachmann’s short political history. His piece begins:

When it comes to Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party rhetoric doesn’t always match the record. Should she launch a serious bid for president, Bachmann would likely find herself defending a slew of questionable votes and decisions, including on earmarks, pardons and farm subsidies.

Bachmann’s penchant for earmarks dates back to her days in the Minnesota state Senate. Despite her reputation as a fiscal conservative, from 2001-2006, then-state Senator Bachmann proposed more than $60 million in earmarks, including a $710,000 “Bond For Centerville Local Improvements Around Highway 14? and a $40,000,000 “Bond for Lino Lakes And Columbus Township Highway Interchanges.”

Bachmann’s communication director attempted to paint such action on earmarks as being something voters approved of because they “expect that things like road projects should be done at the state level, where voters can have a say through the selling of bonds.” As Lewis points out, that’s a fine argument, but it isn’t consistent with other facets of Bachmann’s record. For instance:

[S]ince joining the U.S. Congress in 2007, Bachmann has appropriated more than $3.7 million in earmarks. What is more, when Republicans sought an earmark moratorium, Bachmann pushed to exclude transportation projects from the ban.

Aside from earmark spending and federalism vs. statism hypocrisy, there is also the matter of the Bachmanns collecting farm subsidies on some family property. Lewis wrote:

Bachmann’s fiscally conservative positions will also need to be squared with the fact that from 1995-2009, the Bachmann Family Farm (still listed as being owned by her deceased father-in-law) collected $259,332 in federal farm subsidies. According to financial disclosures, Bachmann has personally reported income of between $15,001-$50,000 from “Bachmann Family Farm LP. Bachmann & Associates.” (Additionally, the Christian psychology clinic run by Bachmann’s husband, Marcus,
has received nearly $30,000 in state funding since 2007.)

Bachmann’s office claims that she is merely a trustee on the farm, and has no operational control over the decisions made regarding it… Okay, if they say so, but her office never mentions the state funding that her husband’s clinic receives.

Matt Lewis’ column also discussed Bachmann’s involvement with a controversial request for a presidential pardon. He writes:

In 2007, Bachmann wrote a letter requesting a presidential pardon for a convicted drug-smuggler and money-launderer named Frank Vennes. Vennes was convicted of money laundering in 1988 and pleaded no contest to a cocaine and weapons charge. Making matters worse, he and his wife donated a total of $27,600 to Bachmann’s 2006 and 2008 election.

Bachmann’s camp said in response to Lewis’ inquiry on the matter that the congresswoman “too hastily accepted his [Frank Vennes] claims of redemption.” Unfortunately, they did not address the $27,600 in campaign donations from a money-laundering drug-smuggler.

That leads us up to the part where Lewis writes about Bachmann’s record in the House of Representatives. While the congresswoman should be credited with the forming of the Tea Party Caucus, I have yet to see her take a leadership position with that group of legislators within the body of the House itself. Time may tell a different story, but it would certainly help push the stated agenda of the caucus if the founder spent more time in DC as opposed to Iowa. Nonetheless, Lewis notes the thin list of Bachmann’s other legislative accomplishments. He writes:

Bachmann’s effectiveness as a legislator will almost certainly come into question if she begins to gain traction as a candidate. Since becoming a member of the U.S. Congress in 2007, even her fans concede that her legislative career has been relatively unremarkable. During an interview with The Daily Caller, Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks, called her an “articulate spokesman” for the tea party, but added: “She doesn’t have a long list of legislative accomplishments.”In fact, during her four years and four months in Congress, Bachmann has sponsored and passed only two bills (one recognizing the 150th anniversary of Minnesota and one honoring public child welfare agencies) and three resolutions. (Note: Her Healthcare Fiscal Accountability Act in the current Congress has 91 co-sponsors and her St. Croix River crossing legislation has bipartisan co-sponsorship and the support of Democratic Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton. She is also talking with Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar about working together on this issue.)

Senior writer for the Washington Examiner, Philip Klein added:

“[W]hen it comes to choosing a presidential candidate, I think conservatives need to look beyond who they like or agree with the most, and carefully consider who has the experience and record to be good at the job of being president. Some conservatives may argue that passing new legislation is bad, but others believe her failure to pass legislation speaks to her lack of effectiveness in the body.”

I think an argument can be made for both, but a good leader within the legislative branch knows how to make a real impact. See “Paul Ryan” for details…

I often hear or read conservatives comparing Michele Bachmann to Governor Palin, but I’ve never really understood the comparison. Sure, they’re both conservatives who happen to be female, but their records are remarkably different. In all honesty, I find it insulting to Governor Palin to be continually compared to a House Member just beginning her third term. I mean no personal offense to Michele Bachmann, but Governor Palin has a wealth of accomplishments and a real record of reform. The congresswoman doesn’t. Bachmann may be a good spokesperson for the conservative movement, but the more the base learns about her actual record, the less likely she is to pick up a GOP nomination. At this point, she would only be helping the wing of the Republican Party that the base doesn’t want to see facing off with Obama in 2012. Perhaps Michele Bachmann should take a page out of the Mike Pence book of leadership by spending her efforts running for Governor. That way she can get some executive experience while adding real accomplishments to her record; things she can bring to the table in a possible future run for the White House.

It is true that actions speak louder than words. Governor Palin’s words are great, but her actions are what lead me to support and defend her. This nation is at a critical point in history. We must demand that our leaders have it in them to live up to their rhetoric. We are well past the point of accepting empty campaign slogans and red meat buzz words as a sufficient resume. We need proven, effective leadership, and nothing less.

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