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Conversations with the Candidates: Michele Bachmann

posted on December 12, 2011

Hello, I'm Dan Miller.  Thank you for joining us.  You're about to see something unusual, a conversation about issues and ideas, civil and substantive between one of Iowa's top political journalists and the candidates whose quests for the presidency she covers.  This series of conversations is defined as much by what it isn't as by what it is, and it most certainly is not today's typical television fare.  It isn't a debate, a shout fest, nor a game of gotcha.  There are no audiences to play to or pundits to persuade.  It's a conversation, like the one you might have at the corner cafe, only longer and without incessant interruptions.  It's a conversation where you meet the person behind the politician, the candidate behind the campaign.  Hosting it is Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich.  She knows the candidates, she knows Iowa and is the perfect person to find our on Iowans' behalf what we haven't heard before.  We've invited candidates Bachmann, Gingrich, Paul, Perry, Romney and Santorum.  Representative Bachmann joins Kathie now.

Obradovich: Congresswoman, thank you so much for being here.

Bachmann: Thank you.

Obradovich: We're getting down to the final weeks of the caucus campaign.  Why do you think that religious conservatives, your people here in Iowa, have been unable to unite around a candidate up to this point?

Bachmann: Well, I think it is similar to candidates, to voters from all across the spectrum because we have probably 60-70% of Iowans that haven't made their final selection and I think that's actually good because Iowans are keeping their eyes wide open, I get Iowans, I understand them, I was born here, raised here and they are very independent thinkers.  They want the person, not necessarily just the party, they want the right person so they are looking and gathering all the information and on January 3rd they want to be sold.  I think that's a good thing.

Obradovich: What is it going to take to sell them on you?

Bachmann: Well, I think what they're learning now, because there's been a lot of surprises with a lot of candidates, is they have peeled back the layers, they see that I'm the one, true, consistent, constitutional conservative.  My faith is very much a big part of my life.  It's nothing new that I've come to.  And I think what they can see is that I'm authentic, I say what I mean, I mean what I say, I'm not a politician who dances just to get votes.  I just am who I am.  And I think what people see is that I'm the one candidate who will be able to beat Barack Obama because I have the bold, distinct differences with Barack Obama and I haven't voted with him, I haven't sided with him.  I have the bold, distinct differences and I can take it to him in the debates and I can win.

Obradovich: What do you think is your greatest political strength?

Bachmann: Well, it's the fact that I think that I am the one, true, consistent, proven constitutional conservative.  When I went to Washington for the last five years I have been in the lion's den and I have taken on the liberal establishment, I have taken on not only Nancy Pelosi but Barack Obama and I have led the fight against Obamacare, I led the fight against Dodd Frank, I led the fight against the out of control spending, against illegal immigration.  On issue after issue after issue I was there.  That is what we need to know.  When we Iowans send someone to speak for us, will they actually do what they say they're going to do?  Not all the candidates can say that.  A lot of compromises with a lot of these candidates.  Not with me.  People know what they're getting with me and I will do what I say I'm going to do.

Obradovich: What do you think is your greatest liability politically because, as you said, people are still trying to make up their minds, their weighing questions in their minds about candidates.  What is it that you have to convince them of as far as your liabilities are concerned?

Bachmann: Well, I think what they want to know, they want to make sure that when I go out and take on Barack Obama that I can take him on and that I can win and I think that that's what they want to know, which of the candidates will be able to do that. 

Obradovich: And how do you persuade them of that?  I mean, you've had to struggle in the polls after coming through and winning the Iowa straw poll, being the only woman ever to win it, but then you've had to make up ground now since then.

Bachmann: But that was like chapter one of a good book, winning the straw poll and now we've had the drama with new candidates coming in and people take a look at the new candidates, which is good, I'm glad that they have.  But I think what's going to happen on January 3rd, Kathie, I think Iowans are going to come back home because they picked the right product in the straw poll and now I think they're going to come home on January 3rd because I'm a genuine article and I'm the only one that can take on Barack Obama.  The reason is because I haven't been for healthcare mandates, I don't have problems with crony capitalisms where people bought me, I can't be bought because I'm not for sale.  I don't have a checkered past that people are going to find.  They're going to find a true blue person who is going to stand up for Iowa values.  That is what Iowans want.

Obradovich: You've been consistent in your positions but you have gotten a reputation at times for not always getting your facts right when you're talking about your positions.  Why do you think that is?

Bachmann: Well, I have to admit, I've gotten Elvis Presley's birthday wrong and I deeply regret that but I haven't gotten wrong fighting for the big issues of the day and that is I didn't get the healthcare mandate wrong.  That's not exactly true with some of the other candidates.  We have three of the candidates that have been for the healthcare mandate.  That is not going to work and we can't reasonably expect that they are actually going to repeal Obamacare.  Senior citizens don't want Obamacare because they know that Barack Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare and they don't want Obamacare and I am going to get rid of this very bad program so we can actually have high quality health care.

Obradovich: One of the things, though, as voters look at candidates they want to be sure that you're not going to make a gaff, that you're going to be able to stand up to Barack Obama in debates and not be caught in the fact checks that happen at the end of the day.  Is that something that you have been working on?

Bachmann: I think that's something that I have proven very well because they are proving grounds when you stand up on the stage and have to debate and that is where I've done very well.  The debates are a lot of fun for me, I enjoy it, I'm not fearful.  I can't wait to hold Barack Obama accountable and, again, that is a big strength of mine because I can stand up with Barack Obama and Barack Obama can't say, you know, Michele, you're just like me, you agreed with the health care mandate, Michele you're just like me, you agreed with illegal immigration, Michele you agreed with me on Dodd Frank, you agreed with me on the $700 billion bailout.  He can't say that because I didn't.  I have been completely opposed to the President.  I'm not a liberal, I'm a proven conservative and that is a big strongpoint in my favor.

Obradovich: And is that something that you think that some of your fellow republican candidates are not going to be able to say?

Bachmann: They can't do it.  They absolutely can't do it.  If you take a look at Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, all of them are for the health care mandate.  If you look at the illegal immigration issue I'm the one with the best score on illegal immigration.  I'm going to stand up and build that fence within the first year but I am also going to make English the official language of the country and I am going to end the practice of giving automatic American citizenship to babies that are born here to illegal aliens.  No other candidate will do that.  That can't be said of Newt Gingrich, that can't be said of Mitt Romney.  I'm the only one that is going to do that and that is why I think on issue after issue after issue none of the candidates hold a candle to me on my consistency and that is what we need to stand up against Barack Obama.

Obradovich: You've also said, I think you're the only candidate who has said that you would have every single person in the United States pay taxes, pay something in taxes, right?

Bachmann: If you have an income you need to pay something.  So, today of the people who should be eligible to pay federal income taxes only 53% do, 47% don't and I think everyone benefits from this magnificent country.  Obviously not everyone can pay a lot because not everyone is in a strong financial situation.  But even if they pay $10 a year I think that's important because everyone benefits, everyone should pay something even if it is as little as $10 a year.

Obradovich: You've written in your book about -- you didn't come from a wealthy background and you have written in your book about how after your parents divorced that your mom had to work really, really hard and there was a good story in there about how she literally had to scrounge to find a dime to give to you for a school function or something like that.  Under your plan, under your tax plan a mother in that situation today would have to be finding more than a dime to pay for income taxes, right?

Bachmann: That's right but maybe she'd be paying $10 a year or maybe she'd be paying $100 a year but that is an act of our citizenship to pay something.  That is my point and I recognize, again, the people who are at the lower economic strata, of all of the candidates in the race I understand poverty because my family went from middle class, I was raised in Waterloo/Cedar Falls and we went to below poverty, we lost everything.  We lost our home, I watched a single mom who had never worked outside of the home have to get a job.  It was very tough times.  I get it how hard poverty is and I had to work myself out of poverty and I learned one of the animating principles of America which is no one owes you a living.  That is one thing that my parents taught me.

Obradovich: I agree with no one owes you a living but don't you think that, you know, it would have made your family, and maybe back then your mom did have to pay income taxes, she probably did have to pay something on her wages back then, but wouldn't it have been better if she could have used that money to put aside for your education or to be able to not have to struggle quite so much to feed the family?

Bachmann: I think actually the idea that people realize that they are a part of society, they benefit from the military, from being safe and from roads and from the court system, people recognize that and when you have 47% of the people paying zero something happens to the mentality where you think everything is free and it's not.  And that's why even if it's $10 a year everyone can afford that and so that's why I say there's got to be a ground level where everybody participates.

Obradovich: Well, let's talk a little bit more about entitlements because you said you'd like to go back perhaps, roll back some of the great society programs that came in, in the 1960s and '70s.  Are you envisioning the day when we have an America with no welfare program, no entitlements, no unemployment insurance, no Medicaid, no Medicare?

Bachmann: I think these systems would be better served at the state level than at the federal level.  I think that is the problem.  We have moved these government functions that deal with social services too far away from the people because the best people to know how people truly are suffering are people in their own backyard whether it is in the city or the county, certainly no farther away than the state and I think Iowans should decide how best to deal with social services.  One thing people should know is that the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. make a lot of money, they make a lot more than Iowans.  The average wage and benefit package is $123,000 a year and what we need to do is have a lot fewer bureaucrats in Washington sucking up billions of dollars in waste and instead keep that money here.  Iowans are pretty efficient, pretty lean.  I'm very impressed with the state government here and I think Iowans need to make those decisions.  They would make a lot better decisions.  As a matter of fact, when I was growing up in Iowa we took the Iowa Basic Skills Test, we were number one in the country in Iowa.  We didn't have a federal Department of Education.  That is when Iowa was number one.  I think Iowans should stop sending money to the federal government for education and keep that money in the classroom, hire more teachers, buy carpet, buy more textbooks, pay for school buses, pay for things in Iowa, stop sending it to Washington.  That is a big swamp out there and it is wasted, billions, keep the money here.

Obradovich: You were a foster parent.  Would you have been able to afford to take in 23 kids over the years if you didn't have some money coming from the government to help pay for expenses?

Bachmann: Well, the money that foster parents receive is a reimbursement.  It is not a wage, any form or shape at all. 

Obradovich: It comes from the state and there's some pass through money from the federal government that goes into that.

Bachmann: And it is a reimbursement for food primarily and a little bit toward clothing and it is just to help families that are willing to take children in and I think that's important that families have that remuneration because they do so much for these children.  They aren't getting any wage at all.  They aren't getting any benefits at all, no health care, no pension, nothing like that and I think that I wouldn't begrudge a foster parent if they are getting reimbursed for money for the child.

Obradovich: So, you would think that that's a worthy thing for the federal government to keep doing?

Bachmann: No, not the federal government.

Obradovich: Not the federal government?

Bachmann: That should come at, again, at the state and the local and the city level because it would be a lot cheaper if the money just stayed in Iowa or just stayed, for instance, in Black Hawk County or Polk County.  If the money just came out of the county and stayed here it would be a lot cheaper than sending it through the system in Washington.

Obradovich: But if a state decided that that's not where they wanted to put their money, if foster families weren't a priority for them that would be okay if it's a state-to-state decision?

Bachmann: There's also private foster care agencies and there's also church groups that have backing for foster programs.  It isn't that it won't happen, it's what is the best way to care for children that can't remain in their homes, what is the best way to pay for it. We'll always be loving and reach out, Iowans are loving people.  They don't want to see anybody suffer.  And so people won't suffer, they'll be cared for.  I just think it should be done the most efficient way possible.

Obradovich: You've been calling your tax plan win, win, win and a little bit of a reference there to Herman Cain's 999 plan.  But you actually criticized Herman Cain's plan for having a national sales tax, right?  You didn't think that part of the plan was a good idea.  Why now kind of have a tribute to a plan that you really didn't totally agree with?

Bachmann: Well, what I was praising was the simplicity of understanding that plan.  I'm not adopting the basis of that plan.  My plan is very different.  I want to get rid of the entire tax code, I want to abolish it but what I want to do instead is lower the tax rates on people and I want to make sure that people that are high income people pay at least as much as middle and lower income people and I want to make sure that the rules apply the same to everyone under the tax code.  That is the problem today, it's all these special carve outs.  That is wrong.  We need to have equal treatment under the law and I think that is fair for everyone.

Obradovich: Why the shout out to Herman Cain though?  Are you just trying to attract his supporters to come to you?

Bachmann: Well, I thought that he was very artful in being able to be understandable to people and that is what I meant by that is to thank him for his messaging strategy and I'm trying to do the same thing and win, win, win because we all want the economy to grow and I want everyone to win so it is called the win, win, win plan.

Obradovich: I get the impression that you don't think government does very much very well.  Is that fair to say?  There's not much, very much that the government does very well?

Bachmann: Well, if you consider that 43 cents of every dollar we're spending is borrowed that is not a very good report card.  I don't know any Iowans that live that way.  Our family didn't and we were poor people when we grew up.  But we never lived that way where we overspent and so that tells me that government hasn't done a very good job with our money.

Obradovich: Government is not doing a good job with those things.  Why would you want the government involved in trying to restore family values?

Bachmann: Well, family values are really restored by the families themselves and by their faith community, by their churches.  That is primarily where the values come from.  What the government does it uphold that law.  That is the difference and I think that the number one duty of government is to protect life.  I'm pro-life from conception until natural death.  I'm not ashamed of that, I don't apologize for it.  I've been pro-life since I was 19 years of age when I first learned about the Roe vs. Wade decision.  I opposed that Supreme Court decision and I believe in standing for life from all stages, from conception to natural death.  I have always stood for pro-life.  I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.  The Supreme Court in Iowa was out of control and completely wrong when they imposed their role on Iowans.  Iowans deserve to be able to decide on the definition of marriage, not a couple of out of control judges.  That is why I praise Iowans for throwing those judges out.

Obradovich: Do you think that government has a role, though, in trying to protect sort of traditional cultural values.  For example, should the government assert more control over sexual or violent programming on TV than we have now?

Bachmann: Well, I think the issue of preserving life is very important.  That is a function of government and also the standard for marriage is a function for government and also religious liberty.  When I grew up in Waterloo and Cedar Falls we used to be able to sing Silent Night, we had Christmas programs in school, we could sing Silent Night, we'd have a Christmas tree and a Christmas party and no one thought anything about that.  Today you can't do those things.  That is called our First Amendment rights.  We should be able to express ourselves and have religious liberty.  We don't have that anymore and I think that is something where government needs to protect our First Amendment rights.

Obradovich: But you wouldn't get it involved in doing more as far as the kinds of things that kids are able to see on TV, for example?

Bachmann: I think that is an issue that the industry deals with whether it is the movie industry or the television industry or radio and, of course, now the Internet and that is something that I think the industry and parents are best able to deal with.

Obradovich: I know that you would repeal Obamacare, we've talked about it already today.

Bachmann: It's the first time we have taxpayer subsidized abortion in the history of the United States and we only have one chance to get rid of it, that is 2012.  I am the only candidate who has the resolve to see this through to repeal.  No other candidate knows how to do this or has the resolve to see it through.

Obradovich: What we don't talk about as much is what you would replace it with and ...

Bachmann: I'd be happy to tell you.  It's very simple.

Obradovich: One question I have is, do you think insurance companies should be allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions to make it financially feasible for them to insure people?

Bachmann: This is what I would do.  I would repeal Obamacare and then every state has a monopoly by the insurance companies in that state.  I would do away with those monopolies and let Iowans buy any insurance policy they want anywhere in the United States with no minimum federal requirements.  Then I would allow them to pay for their insurance policy, their deductibles, their copays, their pharmaceuticals, their medical devices, chiropractor care, anything health related with their own tax free money and deduct the rest on their tax return.  Then finally I'd have a medical malpractice reform.  That would bring down the price of health care for everyone.  That is where we need to begin.  And as far as pre-existing conditions go I think that if you allow Iowans to buy any insurance policy they want, exactly the one that is tailored to them that will bring down the cost and then the state of Iowa can create a high risk pool, that is essentially what you're talking about is a high risk pool.  That shouldn't be at the federal level, that should be at the state level and each state then can come up with a high risk pool.  We have probably I think maybe 37 states now have high risk pools and what that does is it allows people with pre-existing health problems to be able to pay for insurance but do it in such a way that it doesn't break the bank for the family.

Obradovich: If states design their own health care plans, as you have suggested, does the federal government have any sort of role in setting minimum standards of health care especially for the poor and for the uninsured?  Not every state is going to have an equal ability to cover their own people and I do think people who have a right to life also have a right to health care, that the federal government should be involved in making sure that they have.

Bachmann: People, every human being has a right to life because every human being is made in image and likeness of a holy God but that does not mean that every individual has the guaranteed right to the government paying for their health insurance policy.  That I don't believe.  That is what Barack Obama believes and I don't and the reason for that is because that is the government forcing us to buy a product or service against our will just as a condition of citizenship.  That is what Newt Gingrich has gotten behind.  I don't think that takes away our liberty interest.  That is what Mitt Romney has gotten behind.  That takes away our liberty interest.  Rick Perry also believes in a health care mandate.  I don't.  That is what separates me from them.  I believe in the liberty of every individual to pay for their health insurance or no health insurance at all if they don't want to.  Some people just don't have the means to buy health insurance policy or they can't or they are between jobs.  Most people will and if we reduce the costs on health insurance they'll be able to -- let me just tell you, when I was growing up here in Iowa, when my mother took us to the doctor, which we didn't run to the doctor back then, but if we did the doctor visit was $5 a visit.  Well, why is it that it has grown exponentially?  It is because we have redistribution of wealth in health care and government has made health care terribly expensive.  If we get government out of health care we'll see the price drop and then Iowans will be able to afford health care.

Obradovich: Your good friend, Congressman Steve King of Iowa, has worried that the next President is not going to have enough of a mandate from voters to do anything specific with the budget because he says the candidates, you all, the republican candidates, are not being specific enough about your plans.  Do you disagree with him?

Bachmann: I do disagree with him.  I think I've been very specific.  I have a wonderful eleven point plan that I hope people read at michelebachmann.com and quite frankly what we have to do is cut out the overspending.  We are overspending, as I said, by 43 cents on a dollar and my specific is to make sure that I will repeal Obamacare, I will repeal the jobs and housing destruction act, Dodd Frank, I will abolish the tax code and lower rates because I want to grow the economy.  But I'm also going to work very hard to re-examine government and that is cut out $1.8 trillion worth of rules and regulations that are killing jobs but I'm also going to legalize American energy production.  I have worked on that for four years because I want to get gasoline down to what it was the day that Barack Obama took office, $1.79 a gallon.

Obradovich: What do you think your mandate would be, though, as far as the cuts that you would make to the budget?

Bachmann: Well, my mandate would be, number one, to pull out Obamacare, pull out Dodd Frank and abolish the tax code.  I've been very clear about that.  But also what I will build the fence on the southern border.  That is a mandate.  And the other mandate is legalizing American energy production because that would create 1.4 million jobs including the Keystone 2 Pipeline.  I will build that pipeline immediately and we'll start drilling for oil, we'll access natural gas and also coal.

Obradovich: What has it been like for you as the only woman running for president?

Bachmann: Well, I have enjoyed it.  I think it's been good.  It is different for a woman than a man.

Obradovich: How is it different?

Bachmann: Well, a man could roll out of bed 15 minutes before an interview and he could sit here and have an interview with you.  It takes me a little bit longer.

Obradovich: We had to sit here and have our hair sprayed, didn't we, yeah.

Bachmann: That's a little different.

Obradovich: Do you think you have been held to the same standard as male presidential candidates?

Bachmann: Well, that will be up to the voters, I think, to decide that but I have to say that I have enjoyed the process.  I think it's good.  I think one way to put it, someone told me this and I think it's very true, they said that running for president is one of the most difficult things you will ever experience in life and it's true.  It is a very difficult proposition but it's good.

Obradovich: What has been the most difficult thing for you?

Bachmann: Well, it is the fact that we work nearly every day about 18 hours a day and that is a relentless pace to keep up but I defend the process.  It's like having, someone said it's like having the snot beat out of you every day and honestly I defend that.  It's good because we are vying to be the next leader of the free world.  Being President of the United States is a tough job.  I'm up for it.  I can do this job.  I have raised 28 children, five biological, 23 of my own.  I have worked my way out of poverty.  I have created and started and I run a successful company.  I've worked as a federal tax lawyer for years.  I have tried hundreds of cases in the U.S. federal tax court.  I raised more money than any member of Congress in the history of Congress and I have led education reform movements and I have also led the movement against Obamacare.  I'm a fighter and I'm going to fight for people.

Obradovich: We have just a minute left so I just want to ask you, what do you have to do -- do you have to win in the Iowa caucuses to be a viable candidate for the nomination?  Is just doing well here enough or do you have to actually win the Iowa caucuses?

Bachmann: Well, we intend to win.  I intend to win the Iowa caucuses.  I'm embarking on my 99 county tour all across Iowa because we've been across the state, we want to be across the state again and make the case that of all of the candidates in this race I am the only one that can defeat Barack Obama and when I am in the White House I will be the most bold president that people have ever seen.  I will turn this country around, I will create millions of jobs and the economy will come roaring back and I will take on China and we will be respected again in the world because I will strangle OPEC and we'll get gas back down to $1.79 a gallon.

Obradovich: And you'll keep the Iowa caucuses first, right?

Bachmann: Always.  As an Iowan I would make that my priority.

Obradovich: Thanks so much for being here, Congresswoman.

Bachmann: Thank you.

A reminder that you can see this conversation and all the others online at desmoinesregister.com and iptv.org.  And on the air you can follow in depth coverage of the caucus campaign and the politics of the day every day on the PBS Newshour and every week on Iowa Press on Iowa Public Television.  For Kathie Obradovich, I'm Dan Miller.  Thank you for joining us.


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