Bachmann’s Battles

by Robert Costa

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was a leading critic of Speaker Boehner’s spending deal with the White House. In a heated closed-door meeting last week, a handful of her colleagues voiced their displeasure with the break in ranks.

Bachmann, in an interview with National Review Online, shrugs off the criticism. Instead of backing down, she pledges to speak up more, especially as the debt-ceiling vote approaches.

She notes that at the conference meeting, “we were only allowed one minute at the microphone,” so her quiet response to her critics was hardly an indicator of things to come.

But when she briefly addressed the conference, Bachmann did make one thing clear: that any opposition she has to the leadership’s policies is based upon principle, not ambition. “That is what my true motivation was,” she says. “I believe in these issues.”

Bachmann believes that the spending-deal fight should be a wake-up call for House Republicans, so she prodded them about their commitment to campaign promises. “I told them that I have not altered my stance on Obamacare, and our need to cut spending and fight the deficit, whether we are in the majority or in the minority,” she says. “That was my point: that we cannot change what our focus was when the people gave us the gavel.”

“Why would we deviate from that when that is what the American people want to do?” Bachmann asks. “This is not about being negative toward leadership; it’s about continuing to take stances based on what people want us to fight for.”

“I firmly believe that we could have won the debate over the 2011 budget on defunding Obamacare,” Bachmann says. “We had the gift given to us on a platinum platter — the discovery of the $105 billion in advanced appropriations that were secretly inserted into the Obamacare legislation. The American people were outraged.”

House Republicans, she says, could have won concessions from President Obama if they were willing to go to a “government slowdown.” It was an “error,” she adds, to “not take on the administration on the issue of defunding Obamacare.”

Bachmann, who is mulling a 2012 presidential bid, has recently traveled around the country, huddling with conservatives in South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Iowa. During her trips, she says, she is constantly urged on by Republican voters to stir up the Beltway, even if it costs the GOP a few public-relations points.

“The level of energy and interest in what is happening in Washington, D.C., is equally as high, if not higher than it was last fall,” Bachmann says. “People that are part of our support base, as well as independents, are very upset.”

Bachmann has met with many Republicans on the trail, and all, she says, are “disgusted” with President Obama and “big-spending Democrats.” But House Republican leaders, she observes, are stirring frustration among rank-and-file activists. “They are extremely disappointed with what they see as a lack of a willingness to fight on the part of House Republicans,” she says.

“There is a growing level of fear across the nation that Washington, D.C., continues to be disengaged from the reality of what is happening in people’s lives and in the marketplace,” Bachmann says. “They don’t understand how the House Republican caucus could go from $100 billion to $61 billion to $37.5 billion and then they hear about the $352 million.”

“I try to explain that the $37.5 billion number is real,” Bachmann says. “But so is the $352 million number. They are both real in different respects. But people recognize that that level won’t change the kind of news that we got yesterday from Standard & Poor’s.”

As the debt ceiling looms, Bachmann predicts that growing unrest among conservatives will only increase. “People are very disappointed with what they are hearing about raising the debt ceiling,” she says. “People are paying very close attention.”

“They want us to pay all of our debts, all of our obligations and interest on the debt; they want us to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States,” Bachmann says. But that does not mean, she says, that conservatives want House Republicans to back away from a showdown.

For instance, even though Congress has authorized certain levels of spending, Bachmann would like Republicans to push to “withhold appropriations” on various programs “so that we can dramatically cut back.” In coming days, she will urge her colleagues to join the cause.

“Conservatives are not looking for the same-old strategy coming out of our team,” Bachmann says. “They want us to stand up and fight for them — and they expect action.” Republicans, she believes, can win the public debate, “if we put the facts on the table,” to demonstrate “with ideas and statistics that we don’t have to continue this historical pattern, this gut reaction to increase the debt ceiling and further exacerbate the problem.”

“If we fail to increase the debt ceiling, financial Armageddon will not ensue,” Bachmann asserts. “We need to make our case that the federal government does not shutdown.”

Rather, Bachmann argues, “it would take six to seven months before we see significant movement, since revenues would continue to come in, but we just would not have enough money to pay for all of the authorizations that Congress has made. So we would have to make decisions, we would have to make priorities.”

Expect some fireworks in coming weeks. “I anticipate that leadership will favor raising the debt ceiling, with the proviso that they get something in return,” she says. “My opinion, as I have said, is that we should stand against raising it.”

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