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House votes could define Michele Bachmann candidacy

April 14, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington Bureau
(Alex Wong / Getty Images )

Presidential contenders such as Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney can talk all they want about governing from the safe harbor of the putative campaign trail. But only one prospective 2012 presidential candidate has to walk the walk on a regular basis: Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Unlike in 2008, when a bevy of senators contended for the White House, Bachmann is the only working legislator who could end up on the trail later this year. (Rep. Ron Paul also could run again.)

Should the Minnesota conservative mount a run, her actions in the next two days could help define her candidacy.

On Thursday, the House is expected to vote on the budget deal struck last Friday to keep the government funded for the rest of the year. Bachmann has been a vocal critic of the deal, while at the same time urging her colleagues to move on to the fights about the 2012 budget and raising the U.S. debt ceiling. She has said she'll vote against the package, largely because it doesn't de-fund the Democratic healthcare initiative.

However, Bachmann will get the chance to vote to do just that. The House is also expected to vote Thursday on budget resolutions to strip out funding for the healthcare overhaul and funding for Planned Parenthood, two issues that help endear the outspoken Bachmann to her "tea party" base.

Friday, however, is when things become more interesting, as the House is expected to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's budget blueprint, the highly polarizing plan that would convert Medicare into a private insurance-backed system and reconfigure Medicaid into a state block-grant program, while cutting the federal budget by an estimated $6 trillion over a decade.

Like many of her colleague, Bachmann has been cautious about the Wisconsin Republican's plan. When it was first released, she praised it generally and said she looked forward to studying it further. Earlier this week, while touring Iowa (a state that has become her second home in recent days), she was equally equivocal, telling the Associated Press that she supported the plan “in principle.”

"The aspirational goal of making Medicare and Medicaid sound and secure, yes, I support that," Bachmann said.

Other potential 2012 presidential candidates have made similar remarks, but none of them will have to vote Friday like Bachmann will -- and none will be on the record specifically endorsing a plan that President Obama blasted Wednesday as a threat to seniors.

Bachmann has had, at times, an estranged relationship with House leaders. When Republicans retook the House, she sought the No. 4 position among the leadership, one that eventually went Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

But being passed over may have been liberating for Bachmann, as she has been free to oppose Speaker John Boehner while galvanizing her supporters.

Boehner has been working hard to sell the 2011 budget deal that averted a government shutdown.  Appearing Wednesday night on Sean Hannity’s program on Fox News, Boehner countered criticism from conservatives such as Bachmann, who have said the $38 billion in cuts in the accord didn’t go far enough.

“Remember what the president said at the beginning of the year: no cuts. No cuts. And now he's going to sign into law the largest [spending] cuts since World War II,” Boehner said. I’ve got to tell you, these are real cuts. … We eliminate funding for four of their czars. There are no earmarks in this bill. You know, a year ago when the president signed the omnibus appropriations bill, there were 9,000 earmarks. There’s not one earmark in this bill. And there are hundreds of programs where the funding has either been eliminated or reduced.”

Pawlenty did Boehner no favors Wednesday in releasing a statement imploring House members to reject the budget deal, contending that many of the cuts were illusory. But Boehner declined to criticize the former Minnesota governor publicly.

But Pawlenty won’t have to vote Thursday. Bachmann will. And she can thank Boehner’s salesmanship for allowing her to vote against the budget compromise and please her base, with no threat that the government will shut down as a result.

The Medicare vote Friday, however, could be a different story. One that Democrats, as well as Bachmann's potential 2012 rivals, will be watching closely.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

twitter: @jamesoliphant

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