WASHINGTON — At a time when many Republicans contend that life issues should take a back seat to addressing the country’s economic woes, GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann is having none of it.
“The life of the unborn is not a sidebar issue,” Bachmann said earlier this year. “This is it. It is the issue that impacts more than any other how you view other issues. ... It is the watershed issue of our time.”
That attitude is probably to be expected from a woman who began her pro-life career doing sidewalk counseling at abortion clinics three decades before she ran for the Minnesota state Senate in 2000.
“She is impeccably conservative and 100% pro-life,” said Scott Fischbach of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. He calls Bachmann “a dear friend of the unborn.”
Noting that Bachmann was “always willing to speak for the pro-life cause on the floor” when she served in the Minnesota state Senate, Fischbach portrayed the feisty Minnesotan as someone with deep pro-life roots who was never afraid to take a stand.
As a state senator, Bachmann earned a perfect pro-life voting record. She sponsored a number of pieces of legislation, including the Positive Alternatives Act, which resulted in $2.4 million allotted to women with alternatives to abortion.
The National Right to Life Committee also rates Bachmann’s congressional voting record as 100% pro-life.
A recipient of the 2010 Distinguished Leader Award from the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the nation’s premier pro-life organizations, Bachmann has been an outspoken leader in the national effort to defund Planned Parenthood and has made repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health-care reform law championed by President Obama, a priority.
Bachmann argues that the repeal of Obamacare is necessary because of “a very concerning loophole” that could channel public funds to businesses that perform abortions.
A former Democrat who campaigned for Jimmy Carter, Bachmann has credited the Presbyterian minister and writer Francis Schaeffer, co-author with former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, of the enormously influential book and video Whatever Happened to the Human Race? with awakening her pro-life sensibilities. It was after studying Schaeffer that she became a sidewalk counselor. (Bachmann switched to the Republican Party before the end of the Carter administration.)
For more than 10 years, Bachmann and her husband of more than 30 years, Marcus Bachmann, belonged to Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn. The church is affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which has described the papacy as the “Antichrist.” The Bachmanns left Salem and now attend a non-denominational church. They apparently quit regular attendance at Salem Lutheran several years ago, but made it official shortly before she launched her campaign.
In 2006, Bachmann claimed that her church did not regard the Pope as the Antichrist, adding, “I love Catholics. I’m a Christian, and my church does not believe that the Pope is the Antichrist; that’s absolutely false.”
Bachmann studied law at Oral Roberts University and the College of William and Mary. She and Marcus have a mental-health-care practice that employs nearly 50 people. They have five children and have had 23 foster children over the years.
Although Bachmann has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007, an amendment banning same-sex “marriage” that will be on the 2012 Minnesota ballot is widely regarded as an important part of the Bachmann legacy in her home state.
“She was the prime mover behind the marriage amendment in 2004 and 2005,” recalled Tom Pritchard of the Minnesota Family Council. The amendment — introduced by Bachmann — passed in the Minnesota House but faltered in the state Senate in 2006.
The New York Times quoted a Bachmann opponent referring to the amendment battle as “the Bachmann marriage wars.” The Times noted the congresswoman’s ability to advance the amendment, even though it later stalled in the state Senate, showed her ability to organize around an issue. A same-sex “marriage” supporter was quoted as calling Bachmann “Public Enemy No. 1.” On the other hand, “she helped raise the profile of the marriage issue and is a real champion,” said Pritchard.
Indeed, Bachmann has been a lightning rod for criticism by advocates of same-sex “marriage,” and many angrily point out that her husband is a psychologist who has said that people with same-sex attraction who want to reject the homosexual way of life can do so with counseling. That’s an unpopular point of view among many homosexual activists.
As followers of the GOP debates will recall, Bachmann has been the most outspoken of the candidates in challenging Gov. Rick Perry’s 2007 executive order requiring teenage girls to receive the Gardasil vaccine, designed to prevent a form of cancer caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is transmitted by sexual intercourse.
But even some of the candidate’s supporters felt Bachmann went too far in the debate when she cited a woman, whose name she did not know, who told her that the vaccine could cause mental retardation.
As outspoken as Bachmann has been on the life issues, she is just as uncompromising in laying out what she regards as a program to create new jobs and jumpstart the stalled U.S. economy.
David Strom, a policy fellow at the Minnesota Free Market Institute, called her “an extraordinarily forceful advocate for limited government.” Strom added that Bachmann is never afraid to stick up for her policies, even if they are controversial.
“She was sometimes a lone wolf in the Minnesota state Senate,” Strom said. “The one thing you can count on her doing is not going along to get along.”
She is a staunch supporter of cutting taxes, permitting more drilling for oil, reducing regulation, and repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which she says not only opens the door to public funding of abortions but creates uncertainty that prevents hiring.
Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute, which is not endorsing a candidate, agrees with Bachmann that the repeal of Obamacare is essential for the economy.
“The economic impact of repeal would be to free businesses to start hiring again,” she said, “because they would have the ability to structure their health-care benefits. Employers are hamstrung in hiring right now because they can’t figure out what kinds of benefits they can offer. This is killing jobs, and it most hurts people who are on the low end who are trying to get on the first rung of the ladder.”
A key provision of Bachmann’s “American Jobs Right Now” proposal, an 11-point plan, is the “repeal of job-killing regulations.” The proposal notes: “America’s job creators and small-business owners have lost economic liberty under the weight of $1.8 billion annually in compliance costs with government regulations.” Bachmann is particularly interested in the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a law designed to tighten the regulation of financial services.
Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, a research organization affiliated with George Mason University, agrees that Dodd-Frank creates uncertainty because the regulations are so massive that “for years the industries affected by it won’t know how they are affected.”
“The problem with these gigantic bills,” de Rugy added, “is that even if you assume there are good rules, the time it takes for the rules to be written injects enormous uncertainty into the economy.”
A former federal tax lawyer — something on her résumé that Bachmann rarely fails to mention — Bachmann advocates “a simpler, flatter system that you can … do on a postcard and send in.” She sees cutting taxes as the route to freeing up more money for the private economy and a boost to prosperity.
After lambasting rival candidate Perry on the HPV vaccination issue, she praised his flat-tax plan, which proposes a 20% rate, claiming that it is similar to what she would do.
There is, however, one way in which Bachmann pointedly differs from both Perry and Herman Cain, who would allow the poor to avoid federal income taxes. Citing statistics that nearly half the country is exempt from paying federal income taxes, Bachmann believes that almost everybody should pay something in federal income taxes.
Although Mercatus’ de Rugy does not endorse candidates, she looks favorably on the notion that everyone should pay some federal income taxes. “It is very important for people to have a sense of what government costs,” she said.
Bachmann disappointed some fellow conservatives by endorsing and then expressing reservations about Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan (“A Roadmap for America’s Future”), which many conservatives believe, with its combination of entitlement reform and spending cuts, offers the best chance of economic reform.
Bachmann has said she approves the Ryan plan “with an asterisk.” She is concerned that many people, hearing about the entitlement changes, won’t realize that the plan affects only people under the age of 55, a relatively small disagreement.
Cato Institute economist Dan Mitchell was disappointed at Bachmann’s tepid support for the Ryan plan, but he added, “You look at her voting record, and she is a very good free-market person. Do I expect perfection? No. Most of what she does is good.”
Some critics worry about the “lone wolf” tendencies for which Bachmann is known. For example, her vote against the debt-ceiling deal that prevented the U.S. from going into default remains troubling to some. Bachmann insisted that if the deal failed, the country still had the money to fulfill its most important obligations.
“The idea that you could go into partial default and not harm the credit of the United States is just an illusion,” said economist Ed Lotterman, who writes the “Real-World Economics” column that appears in The St. Paul Pioneer-Press and three other newspapers. Lotterman worries about Bachmann’s “sweeping statements” and thinks that she doesn’t really understand the Austrian school of economics she claims to represent.
As for that, Bachmann got some ribbing after she told Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore, “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”
Ludwig von Mises is one of the chief thinkers of the Austrian school.
Cato’s Dan Mitchell isn’t bothered.
“Is she sitting up in bed at night reading Mises?” he said. “I doubt it. But I don’t expect that of a politician. The main thing about a politician is whether they instinctively understand the need to reduce the role of government, and she does.”
Said Mitchell, “Our No. 1 economic challenge is that government is too big and tax is too high, and she wants to move in the right direction on both of these issues.”
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