For most of her campaign, Michele Bachmann has made more headlines for her gaffes than for her platform, and her popularity has fallen as a result.
Bachmann remains in the lower tier the Republican race, but with Herman Cain out, she is one of several candidates who could see some increase in support, particularly in socially conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina. So, moving past the YouTube clips and headlines, what are the Minnesota congresswoman's political positions?
Bachmann has called for major reforms to entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but she differs from some of her opponents in that she has refused to consider reducing benefits for current retirees or people who are about to retire. She draws the line at age 55: people older than that, she told Radio Iowa in September, have made their life decisions in such a way depending upon what they expected was to be an earned income for the remainder of their life.
For people younger than 55, however, these entitlement programs would change dramatically under a President Bachmann. Earlier this year, she supported the Paul Ryan budget plan, which would have completely privatized Medicare, turning it into a voucher program and removing it from the responsibility of the federal government. In August, she told Bloomberg TV that she would reduce both Social Security and Medicare benefits, and she also expressed support for raising the retirement age.
Like every other candidate for the Republican nomination, Bachmann has vowed to repeal President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law as president. Her objections to Obamacare are the typical complaints: that it will cost too much, kill jobs, make employers stop sponsoring health insurance for their employees and create panels of unelected bureaucrats who will determine your level of care and an unconstitutional infringement on your freedoms from the individual mandate and centralized government care, according to her campaign Web site. Better reforms, she says, would increase competition and individual choice in the health care marketplace.
Her congressional Web site offers more details on her alternative proposals. These include making insurance premiums and other medical expenses tax-deductible, whether the insurance is sponsored by an employer or purchased individually, and creating association health plans that would let small businesses insure their employees at a lower cost. Like many of her competitors, Bachmann also wants to make tax-exempt health savings accounts available to all Americans. Lastly, she supports tort reform to reduce the flood of frivolous lawsuits that has contributed to rising health care costs.
Bachmann's Web site features an 11-point American Jobs, Right Now plan to create jobs and strengthen the economy as a whole. She wants to cut taxes and eliminate what she sees as overly burdensome economic regulations, such as those established by the Dodd-Frank law, in order to give individuals and companies incentives to invest and hire. She has also vowed to balance the federal budget, partly by privatizing agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as she believes that overspending by the government hurts job creation by devaluing the dollar and stealing capital from the private sector.
Her plan also calls for the repeal of Obamacare and for a tax holiday for multinational corporations to bring their profits back to the United States. She has further promised to create jobs by legalizing new forms of energy development and by repealing radical environmental laws that kill access to natural resources.
Like her fellow Republican candidates, Bachmann has called for lower income taxes for both individuals and corporations and for the repeal of the estate tax. She does not advocate a flat income tax, but she does want to reduce the number of tax brackets to create a flatter system. She has also proposed a tax holiday that would allow multinational corporations to bring profits made outside the United States back into the U.S. tax-free, thus encouraging domestic investments. After that, she wants to permanently lower the tax rate on repatriated earnings.
The core of her tax plan, and potentially the most controversial part of it, is her proposed requirement that every single American pay some federal income tax, even if it's only $10 a year. Currently, 47 percent of the country pays no federal income tax, either because they are unemployed or because they earn too little to be subject to even the lowest tax bracket. From a philosophical standpoint, Bachmann argues that, since everyone benefits from government-sponsored services like roads and schools, everyone should pay into the system. The economic benefit, she and many other Republicans say, is that a broader tax base would allow lower rates across the board.
In an interview in May, shortly before she declared her candidacy, Bachmann said that, like many Democrats, she was tired of Afghanistan, but that withdrawing troops must be contingent on the advice of commanders on the ground. I want to reduce U.S. exposure in Afghanistan. So, let's get them out as quickly as we can, she said. But at the same time, I don't want to tell the generals when they're going to get out. If we withdraw troops now, she said, we could cause all of the advances we've made to collapse.
Since then, she has been increasingly adamant about the need to win the war in Afghanistan without setting a timeline for withdrawal. General [David] Petraeus, who's in charge of winning the war effort in Afghanistan, understands that we need to win the war on terror, she said in an NPR interview in June. We must never forget that 9/11 was hatched in the caves and the mountains of Afghanistan. The Taliban has a presence there. Al-Qaida has a presence there. We must defeat them in their backyard.
Bachmann has taken a hard line on Iran, particularly at a Republican debate last month in which she said that she would be willing to take military action to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Pentagon should prepare a war plan immediately to tell us what to do to prevent Iran from gaining those nuclear weapons, she said in a subsequent speech. I do not take lightly the prospect of committing the United States' troops to stop Iran ... [but] we must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to stop Iran.
Short of war, she has proposed several measures to stop Iran's suspected nuclear program, including support for the Iranian opposition, a naval blockade and economic sanctions in conjunction with Russia and China, which have financial dealings with Iran. She has also called for diplomatic isolation of the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, including a ban on him speaking at the United Nations, although such a ban would be illegal because the U.N. headquarters in New York are considered international territory.
Like her Republican competitors, Bachmann opposed Obama's decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, calling it more politically based than military based and telling CBS News, If you look at every time we have deposed a dictator, the United States has always left troops behind to be able to enforce the fragile peace. She said that while she did not want the U.S. to remain in Iraq indefinitely, it was important to leave a transition force there.
Much more controversially, she has also said that Iraq should reimburse the United States for the costs of the 10-year occupation. It's over $800 billion that we have expended. I believe that Iraq should pay us back for the money that we spent, and I believe that Iraq should pay the families that lost a loved one several million dollars per life, I think, at minimum, she said on Meet the Press last month.
Bachmann is staunchly anti-abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, because, she said at a debate in June, The very few cases that deal with those exceptions are the very tiniest fraction of cases, and yet they get all the attention. Where all of the firepower is, is on the genuine issue of taking an innocent human life. She added that there are other options, namely adoption, for women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest. She has not commented specifically on whether abortion should be legal to save the life of the mother; when asked, she gives the same response that such cases are very rare.
She proposed a bill in October, the Heartbeat Informed Consent Act, which would require doctors to perform an ultrasound and describe the image to women seeking abortions, as well as have them listen to the fetus's heartbeat. She also supports a variety of other restrictions on abortion pending a Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade, including a prohibition on minors crossing state lines to get abortions and a ban on federal funding for Planned Parenthood and similar organizations. Ultimately, she supports a constitutional amendment to define fetuses as people under the 14th Amendment.
Bachmann takes a hard line on immigration policy, calling for the deportation of all illegal immigrants and criticizing any form of amnesty. On Monday, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly asked her whether she thought it was realistic to drag people out, putting them on a bus with their children crying, and she responded, It can be done. That's the thing; it can be done. It's time we do take a tough stance. I'm a compassionate person, but we have to get tough on illegal immigration.
She has called for the construction of a double fence along the Mexican border -- not just a single fence, as most of her Republican opponents support -- and in fact, she has signed a pledge to construct that double fence by 2013. She is also a staunch opponent of any policy that would reward illegal immigration, including a policy, as pursued by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, to make the children of illegal immigrants eligible for in-state tuition.
Bachmann opposes same-sex marriage because, she told Glenn Beck on Tuesday, it's foundational in the Scriptures, and if you go through the major religions of the world and really through 5,000 years of recorded human history, you can't find a tribe or a nation or a people group where marriage has been anything other than between men and women. She also opposes civil unions for same-sex couples, which some conservatives accept as a compromise, because she sees civil unions as the equivalency of marriage.
Last week, in a well-publicized exchange with a high school student at a town hall event in Iowa, Bachmann said she did not see same-sex marriage as an equal-rights issue because, she said, gays already have equal rights: they can marry a man if they're a woman, or they can marry a woman if they're a man. Separately, she has called for the repeal of laws legalizing gay marriage in a handful of states, including Iowa, because they were not passed by popular vote, and expressed support for a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.