Bachmann’s amendments and bills have rarely been considered by any committee, even with the House under GOP control. In a chamber that rewards substantive policy work and insider maneuvering, Bachmann has shunned the inside game, choosing to be more of a bomb thrower than a legislator.
But will the lack of substantive accomplishments in Congress hurt Bachmann? Not necessarily, the Minnesota Republican’s supporters argue.
Bachmann advocates say her constant attacks on President Barack Obama, her fights to block legislation and her ability to articulate on the House floor — and on television — what grass-roots conservatives believe in is far more important to GOP primary voters than how many bills she got passed.
“I think she’s had a profound effect on debate,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). “It doesn’t mean you always win. In fact, as we know, [Winston] Churchill lost and lost and was a voice of reason in Great Britain for a long time before people finally realized he was right.”
Of course, having a thin legislative résumé isn’t a dead end for a presidential run — Obama started running for president just two years into his Senate term and didn’t have a substantive list of congressional accomplishments.
In terms of policy substance, Bachmann has pushed for a balanced-budget amendment and major cuts in spending and entitlement programs, including Medicare and Social Security.
She has called for new oil drilling on federal lands and in Alaska, as well as greater use of nuclear power and clean energy. Bachmann has advocated large tax cuts, especially for private business, and she has backed legislation requiring congressional approval for all major federal regulations.
There are some inconsistencies, however, when it comes to her own backyard.
Bachmann privately lobbied for stimulus funds for Minnesota and pork producers, according to recent media reports, sought spending earmarks that she now opposes and benefited personally from tens of thousands of dollars in federal funds for a family farm and counseling clinic owned by her husband, federal records show.
To her detractors, Bachmann’s sparse record while in Congress demonstrates that she is more of a show horse than a workhorse. These critics, including House colleagues on both sides of the aisle, portray her as unreasonable and cynical, using fear to win political favor and public support rather than seeking consensus or compromise.
“I have never regarded her as very thoughtful,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said in an interview. Frank chaired the House Financial Services Committee from 2006 to 2010. “Frankly, as a member of the committee, she did not seem to be a major factor, even with the Republicans.”
The sniping about Bachmann from the Republican side is usually done privately and anonymously, to avoid ruffling feathers with the tea party star.
“There’s not been one single legislative accomplishment she’s had,” said a GOP lawmaker who serves with Bachmann on the Financial Services Committee. “She shows up, but is that the foundation of her campaign opposition? She’s not bringing any achievements, she hasn’t proactively legislated or proactively blocked any bills.”
Bachmann, who holds a master’s in tax law, was elected to the Minnesota state Senate in 2000. After six years in that body — always serving in the minority — Bachmann won a seat in Congress in 2006, becoming the first Republican woman elected to the House from Minnesota.
Bachmann was sworn into office in January 2007, just as the new Democratic House majority under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi came into power.
As a freshman in the minority party, Bachmann had little or no chance to see her legislation enacted. House GOP leaders also denied her request for a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, despite her experience as a federal tax attorney. Bachmann was appointed to the Financial Services Committee instead.
At the beginning of this Congress, Bachmann considered a run for House Republican Conference chairman, although she later decided against that move. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) then appointed her to a seat on the intelligence committee — a posting that has boosted her national security credentials in the early stages of her presidential campaign.
Sources say Bachmann has brought “a partisan attitude” to intelligence committee hearings, which has alarmed members of the panel who want it to act in a nonpartisan manner.
Since coming to the House, Bachmann has been the lead sponsor on 40 bills and resolutions, as well as several amendments. She has also co-sponsored hundreds of other bills, and along with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a close friend, she has been active on the floor in skewering Obama and the Democrats.
None of Bachmann’s legislation has become law. A Bachmann resolution to declare September as “National Hydrocephalus Awareness Month” to help bring awareness to the brain disorder was adopted by the House in July 2009 but was not taken up by the Senate.
Another Bachmann resolution honoring Minnesota’s 150th anniversary as a state was adopted by the House in June 2008, but again, it did not get Senate consideration.
A bill that Bachmann offered this year — under a new Republican majority — to redirect funding from last year’s Democratic health care bill has 95 co-sponsors but has not been taken up the Ways and Means Committee. Another Bachmann proposal to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial services reform bill is languishing in committee.
“She has a tendency, as I do, of taking on the hard issues,” King said. “There are members that come here that want to build a record to say, ‘I’ve passed a bill with my name on it’ or ‘I was the original author of x, y and z.’ That’s not been her interest.”
Bachmann has pushed for several years to replace an aging bridge over the St. Croix River with a new $700 million span. That proposal has backing from Minnesota’s Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, but Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) is strongly opposed, as is the National Park Service. Bachmann has introduced legislation to waive environmental restrictions on the project, although that measure has gone nowhere.
Bachmann has not earned high marks from the Minnesota delegation. Rep. John Kline, another conservative Republican, called her a “friend” and “colleague.” He is supporting former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty for the GOP presidential nomination but noted that Bachmann has a “very conservative voting record.”
“I’ve talked to her twice,” said Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), a former chairman of the Agriculture Committee and the dean of the state’s delegation. “Both times to say ‘Hello.’ I don’t know about her record.”