WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Michele Bachmann went head to head with Finance Chairman Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., on the House floor today – and lost — over a portion of a home mortgage bill that would withhold federal funding from organizations or individuals that have been indicted for voter fraud.
Bachmann had successfully added the language on a voice vote during markup last week of the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act, which the House will vote on today.
Soon after, however, Frank admitted that he had made a mistake in allowing it to pass. His amendment would change the language to prohibit funding from organizations that have been convicted of voter fraud, or continue to employ individuals convicted of voter fraud.
A short time ago, the House approved Frank’s amendment on a largely party-line vote 245 to 176.
In a statement released after the vote, Bachmann said that she was “disappointed,” adding, “This is a shameful abdication of our fiduciary duties.”
Earlier in the day during his floor debate with Bachmann, Frank said he wanted to uphold “an important principle of American law. That indictment should not be the cause of serious penalty, that people should be continued to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
“I offered a straightforward amendment,” Bachmann countered, adding that Frank’s amendment “strips down language in the bill designed to keep tax dollars from falling into the hands of organizations indicted for voter fraud or its related crimes.”
Bachmann added that her addition to the bill “should sound familiar to everyone here in this chamber because it is the exact same language that was passed” last year.
Indeed, a 2008 version (PDF) of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act that the House passed last year sought to limit distribution of funds to “an organization which has been indicted for a violation under Federal Law relating to an election for Federal office; or an organization which employs applicable individuals.”
At the time, Frank voted for the bill.
On Thursday, he apologized for allowing the language to slip through.
“Apparently, it was in an earlier bill,” Frank said. “If it was, it shouldn’t have been, and I apologize.”
This didn’t mean, however, that he was giving up this particular fight.
Bachmann, who already indicated that she intended the language to prevent organizations like ACORN from receiving money, went on to mention charges against the group in Nevada and Pennsylvania.
“Not only is it legitimate for Congress to decide the threshold for accessing taxpayer funds,” Bachmann said. “It is incumbent on this body to do so in our fiduciary capacity to the taxpayers of this great country.”
Nevada authorities filed criminal charges Monday against ACORN and two former employees for allegedly paying canvassers illegally to sign up new voters.
Meanwhile, seven ACORN volunteers in Pennsylvania were recently charged with voter registration fraud, including forgery and falsification of voter records.
ACORN did not immediately respond.
In the end, Bachmann reduced her argument to this: “We are on the people’s side or we are on ACORN’s side.”
But Frank flatly rejected this premise.
“The gentlewoman I think inaccurately says are you for ACORN or the American people,” Frank said.
“This bill says nothing about ACORN. What I think the amendment says is this: Are you for the principle of American justice.”
After pausing to request that Bachmann stop interrupting him, Frank said, “There ought to be a bright line between penalties for indictment and fraud convictions.”
“The gentlewomen from Minnesota said, ‘Do we want to provide funding for people who employ people who are under investigation? Yes. I don’t want to live in a society where the mere institution of an investigation by any prosecutor anywhere shuts down lawful activities.”