U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann opened the TV version of her reelection campaign yesterday with a simple message: Her DFL opponent, state Sen. Tarryl Clark, has voted for tax increases often during her career in the Legislature. It’s an almost insultingly simple message, but many small government conservatives have done well with it, and it has the undeniable merit of being true.
The same cannot be said for a Bachmann fundraising appeal that fell into my hands recently. It contains one fairly colossal whopper that FactCheck.org examined months ago and denounced as a “wildly inaccurate” partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and “compounded by outright misrepresentation,” a second falsehood that treats an unofficial projection of the debt in the year 2020 as if it has already occurred and engages in such over-the-top rhetoric about the dangers of top Democrats that you know it would fly only with the already-converted base of Bachmann supporters for whom a letter like this is intended.
Picking up on that last point first, this is a fundraising letter, not an advertisement for a general audience. It is mailed to recipients whom the campaign believes are potential contributors, not by swing voters who might be offended such over-the-top stuff. This is normal. Fundraising letters often throw out red meat. Still it seems reasonable to hold a candidate accountable any public or semi-public communications that go out over her name.
Case 1: The letter, which never mentions Tarryl Clark and is mostly an attack by name on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, says that Pelosi and Obama “rammed a socialized medicine plan through Congress that’s so expensive it requires 16,500 new IRS agents just to make sure you are paying plenty of taxes to fund it.”
The case of the 16,500 new IRS agents
You can argue about some of the word choices, like “socialized medicine” (I would call that one false) or even “rammed through.” But focus on the one hard fact asserted, the 16,500 new IRS agents. It borders on nonsense.
I asked the Bachmann campaign for its source and was referred to this piece from the free righty paper The Washington Examiner. The assertion about IRS agents traces back to a study by the Republican staff of the Ways and Means Committee, which took a statement from a CBO estimate of the cost of the big health care bill and made several transparently unsafe assumptions.
Here is how FactCheck.org rated the statement. The IRS apparently will need some new employees to implement its responsibilities under the Obamacare law, but the number assigned by the Republicans is a significant exaggeration and, if you care, the task of the new hires will not be “to make sure you are paying plenty of taxes to fund it.” Rather, FactCheck wrote, their task will be “to inform many small-business owners of a new tax credit that the new law grants them — starting this year — which will pay up to 35 percent of the employer’s contribution toward their workers’ health insurance.”
The tripling of the debt?
The Bachmann letter also asserts that the team of Pelosi and Obama “have TRIPLED our national debt, spent Trillions we don’t have on massive new government programs we don’t need, and as a result 3.6 million more Americans are now unemployed.”
The national debt has definitely grown since Obama took office, but it hasn’t doubled and certainly not tripled. Bachmann blundered on her debt calculation previously, when she switched back and forth between the two different ways the national debt is calculated in order to overstate the growth of the debt during Obama’s first year.
But even that exaggeration only made the debt double under Obama (it didn’t, but it has certainly grown). And at first I assumed that the fund-raising letter was making the same mistake again. But when I asked for the source, Bachmann campaign spokester Sergio Gor referred me to this piece by the Heritage Foundation, which says that based on various assumptions not shared by the administration, the debt is on a path to triple by 2020 from the debt Obama inherited from his predecessor.
I certainly hope that won’t happen, but if it does it will still be a far cry from a Bachmann statement made in a 2010 letter to potential donors claiming that the tripling had already occurred.
The damage to the Constitution?
The fund-raising letter says:
“Nancy Pelosi and President Obama are systematically undermining the foundations of our Constitution, our democracy, our economy and our freedom.”
Regular readers of Black Ink know that I am fairly obsessed with the Constitution and with the claim of Tenthers, including Bachmann, that Obama routinely violates the Constitution by grabbing new powers not properly delegated by the charter.
When I read the statement in the fundraising letter, I assumed that Bachmann was making the same argument, and perhaps she was. When I asked spokester Gor for the most specific backup he could provide for the statement about the damage to the Constitution, his reply was fairly general. It read:
“When referring to ‘systematically undermining the foundations of our Constitution’ Congresswoman Bachmann is referring to the shocking power grabs, the fundamental changes in our way of life that this Congress is imposing and the broad definition which this administration has twisted the Constitution into, only to fit their activist agenda. There is not one aspect we can point at; it’s the general attitude towards reforming or changing what the Constitution has meant all these years.”