- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

For a person prone to the occasional political gaffe, Rep. Michele Bachmann can also stay relentlessly on message — traits that have made the tea party favorite both the butt of late-night jokes and a force to be reckoned with on Capitol Hill.

Days after Mrs. Bachmann made the much-debated claim on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Democrats secretly slipped $105.5 billion in new mandatory spending in the health care overhaul — repeating the charge five times in the same interview — House Speaker John A. Boehner announced that the GOP would seek legislation putting those “slush funds” on the chopping block.

The episode was a reminder of how the Minnesota Republican has been a thorn in the side of both parties, directing rhetorical bombs at Democrats, though just as often hitting her own party leaders with the shrapnel.

Mrs. Bachmann was one of the first to object to answering all the questions on the 2010 census and was a chief organizer of a rally against President Obama’s health care law that drew thousands to the U.S. Capitol.

This year she delivered an unofficial tea party response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, leaving some Republicans to question whether she was stepping on the toes of Rep. Paul D. Ryan, who gave the GOP’s official response.

Now she’s aiming criticism at the House GOP’s passage of stopgap spending bills, known as continuing resolutions, saying Republicans shouldn’t be supporting bills that include taxpayer funds for the new health care law and Planned Parenthood.

“Those who voted for the continuing resolution, each one had their own reasons for the way they voted, but I will say that many of those who voted for the resolution, did so for tactical reasons, not necessarily on principle,” she said.

Her provocative approach has earned Mrs. Bachmann throngs of supporters in conservative circles, where she’s viewed as a staunch pro-life advocate who goes to bat for conservative tenets of less government and lower taxes.

“She is a natural full-spectrum conservative: pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-Constitution,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican and a frequent ally. “It’s in her head, her heart and DNA.”

Sensing the power of the tea party movement early on, Mrs. Bachmann last summer established the Tea Party Caucus in the House. The freshman class of Republicans has boosted the caucus’s numbers to 56 members, and suggests the third-term lawmaker is at the forefront of an ever-larger bloc on Capitol Hill.

“I think each individual comes with their own influence and I think particularly the new freshman who came in came with a wave of support from their constituencies for cutting spending, cutting the deficit and also rolling back the government takeover of healthcare, also known as Obamacare,” Mrs. Bachmann said. “I think the issues that I have focused on the last four years of Congress are ones that the majority coming in to serve as freshman also see as their own issues. So, we are like-minded, we have increased our numbers, and I’m delighted by that.”

Mrs. Bachmann won her first race in 2006, an otherwise bad year for Republicans, becoming the state’s first Republican woman to be elected to the House. She immediately became a target for Democrats, winning re-election with just 46 percent in 2008, a presidential year. But she cruised to a 13-point victory in November and quieted critics who’d cast her as too outside the mainstream for everyday voters.

Anthony G. “Tony” Sutton, Minnesota Republican party chairman, said Mrs. Bachmann’s “rock star” status in her home state derives from the fact that “she doesn’t mince words” and comes off as “someone who is outside the Republican establishment.”

“She taps into that vein of a lot of people who are just fed up with government,” Mr. Sutton said, while making the case that that her supporters include Independents, Democrats and “people who are fed up with the perceived Republican hypocrisy  — especially during the Bush administration.”

Other Republicans, though, are concerned that sometimes her personality gets in the way of the party’s message, and that she’s more interested in scoring a headline than getting her facts straight. “Michele Bachmann is for one person and for one person only — Michele Bachmann,” a GOP strategist said. “It’s unfortunate because it clouds up the message that a lot of well-intentioned people want to push and see enacted.”

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