Sunday, June 26, 2011

2012 Contender: Michele Bachmann

On social issues, Michele Bachmann is solidly on the Religious Right. On economic issues, it’s not clear what she believes. She excels at political theater and inflammatory rhetoric, using words like “Marxist,” “socialist” and “gangster” liberally against all her opponents -- left and right. But I see little substance, and what I see is decidedly pro-Big Business.

1. Personal Background. Bachmann grew up as a Democrat, but switched parties in college when she didn’t like Gore Vidal “mock[ing] the Founding Fathers” in his 1973 novel Burr. She became political praying at abortion clinics. Between 1988-1993, she worked for the IRS as a tax collection attorney. She served in the Minnesota State Senate before becoming the third woman to represent Minnesota in Congress. She has five children and was a foster mother to 23 teenagers.

2. Social Conservatism. Social conservatism appears to be Bachmann’s primary motivating concern:

Abortion. Bachmann got her start in politics praying outside abortion clinics. As a Minnesota state senator, she introduced a constitutional amendment to ban the use of state funds for abortion. In Congress, she co-sponsored bills (1) to ban Planned Parenthood’s funding, (2) to make it a crime to take minors across state lines to have an abortion, (3) to ban federal funding for abortion, (4) to declare that life begins at conception, and (5) to give fetuses equal rights under the 14th Amendment. She supports a constitutional amendment to ban abortion except in the cases of rape or incest.

Gays. In 2003, Bachmann proposed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. In 2004, she tried to get a same-sex marriage ban on the referendum ballot. In 2005, she tried again with the proposed constitutional amendment. Each effort failed. She supports a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. She has voted against extending employment discrimination laws to gays. Also, related to this issue, her husband owns a Christian counseling clinic which apparently seeks to convert gays to heterosexuality.

Creationism. Bachmann supports teaching intelligent design.
3. Economics. Bachmann’s economic policies lack substance. She doesn’t have a website yet (a red flag considering she’s been running for President for years), which means we have no economic plan to consider. Aside from such a plan, her legislative record is scant, contradictory, and filled with meaningless votes and gestures. It’s rare that she drafted legislation to get her views made into law, she was never a deciding vote on any issue, and there's no evidence she can build coalitions to get legislation moving:
● As a state senator, she proposed amending Minnesota's constitution to add a taxpayer’s bill of rights, based on Colorado’s TABOR. This went nowhere.

● In 2005, she blasted Tom Pawlenty’s proposed 75 cent per pack surcharge on cigarettes, but she ultimately voted for it.

● She opposed the Wall Street bailout bills (TARP and TALP) in the form they passed. Instead, she advocated suspending the accounting rules that require banks to value mortgages at their fair market value -- this would have artificially made banks appear solvent. I found no evidence she introduced legislation to back her proposal.

● She advocated breaking up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and barring its executives from receiving excessive compensation or golden parachutes, but I found no evidence she introduced legislation to back this up.

● Bachmann opposed the auto bailout bill in the form it passed. She instead proposed an alternative bailout with additional conditions that set benchmarks for reducing debt and renegotiating labor deals. Again, I found no legislation.

● Bachmann voted against the first $825 billion stimulus (Jan 2009) and the third $60 billion stimulus (Sept. 2009). But, she voted for the second $192 billion stimulus (July 2009).

● Bachmann voted against expanding the student loan program. It passed.

● Bachmann opposed increasing the minimum wage, which passed.

● In March 2010, Bachmann proposed legislation to bar the government from replacing the dollar. This is already illegal, and her bill went nowhere.
4. Big Business v. Main Street. Bachmann joined the Tea Party movement, but much of her legislative effort has been decidedly pro-Big Business. Note that she didn’t actually oppose the auto or Wall Street bailouts, she just wanted them done differently. Her Wall Street plan was the one advocated by most of the big Wall Street investment firms. She also voted against regulating the subprime market in 2007. Moreover:
● In 2008, Bachmann coauthored a bill with Democrat Tim Mahoney to remove statutory damages against credit card companies for abusive debt collection practices.

● In 2011, she joined other Republicans in advocating the repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law on the basis that “Dodd-Frank grossly expanded the federal government beyond its jurisdictional boundaries. It gave Washington bureaucrats the power to interpret and enforce the legislation with little oversight.” But that’s simply wrong. Dodd-Frank was written by Wall Street insiders to give the appearance of creating a financial regulatory scheme without actually changing anything, and the Democrats/Republicans are playing their constituents for chumps on this. A Tea Party person should have recognized this.
5. ObamaCare. Bachmann introduced a bill with Rep. Steve King to repeal ObamaCare. She later criticized Republican leadership for not shutting down the government until Obama agreed to the repeal (and defunding Planned Parenthood) -- after originally supporting the deal to avert the shutdown. That’s grandstanding.

Her own version of healthcare reform is standard Big Business Republican rhetoric: let insurers compete across state lines, increase health savings accounts and tort reform.

6. Social Security/Medicare. Bachmann has called for phasing out Social Security and Medicare, except for people already “in the system.” But then she opposed the part of Paul Ryan’s budget that does that for Medicare, stating that she puts an undefined “asterisk” next to her vote for the budget on that issue.

7. Global Warming. Bachmann considers global warming a hoax and opposes cap and trade because carbon dioxide “is not a harmful gas.” In 2008, she and 24 co-sponsors introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act. The bill wasn't considered by the committee or brought to a vote. In 2008, she became an advocate for increasing oil and natural gas exploration in ANWR and offshore. She also supports wind, solar and nuclear.

8. Immigration. Bachmann’s position on immigration is to secure the borders and enforce existing laws. I found nothing more. She supports making English the official language.

9. Guns. Bachmann supports gun rights and in 2007 co-sponsored a bill to bar Washington, D.C. from requiring gun registration or trigger locks. In 2009, she co-sponsored a bill to allow people with concealed carry permits to carry their guns in other states.

10. Census. In June 2010, Bachmann said she would boycott the census. She backtracked on this and eventually introduced the American Community Survey Act, which sought to limit the amount of personal information collected by the Census. The bill went nowhere.

I like Bachmann a lot, but I'm concerned. Her preference for political theater over coalition building makes her ineffective. She’s had numerous squabbles in Minnesota and Congress, which resulted in her being kept out of or kicked out of leadership positions, and she has yet to show she can get things done. In this regard, she's much like Ron Paul, casting meaningless protest votes. But I'm most concerned that she appears disinterested in economic issues and that her default position seems to be “do what Big Business wants.” I'll reassess her economic plan when she finishes her website, but based just on what we know now, I have serious doubts she would make a good President or a good conservative President. Right now, she comes across ideologically as George Bush Jr. plus a penchant for indiscriminate bomb throwing.

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