“There were numerous Republicans that voted against the sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future. And so it reminds me of the Shakespeare line: ‘Thou protestest too much.’ Didn’t you know this was going to happen? We knew it. That’s why we voted against this bill.”
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), on the House floor, April 26, 2013
During the House of Representative debate over the bill that ended the furloughs of air traffic controllers, Rep. Michele Bachmann responded to comments by Democrats decrying the impact of the sequester on poorer Americans, notably reductions in programs such as Head Start, Meals on Wheels and nutrition programs for children.
“That breaks everyone’s hearts,” Bachmann said, before blaming the sequester on President Obama and fellow Democrats. She added that she had voted against the Budget Control Act because she knew such “calamities” would happen.
The Fact Checker has concluded that the White House first conceived of the sequester, while also casting doubt on some sequester predictions made by the White House. But we were curious about Bachmann’s suggestion that she voted against the 2011 Budget Control Act because she was worried about the impact on poorer segments of the population.
We will leave aside the accuracy of her Shakespearean quotation.
The Budget Control Act was the result of a bipartisan agreement to head off a looming default on the national debt. It called for $900 billion in discretionary program cuts over 10 years, plus an additional $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts (“sequestration”) if Congress and the White House could not reach further agreement. It passed on a vote of 269 to 161, largely with the support of Republicans. Democrats split over the bill, 95 to 95, while Republicans backed it by a margin of 174 to 66.
Bachmann, who at the time was running for the Republican presidential nomination, was among those who voted “no.”
We searched high and low for any statements that Bachmann made at the time warning about the “calamities” that would fall on the poor because of budget cuts.
What we found instead were comments by Bachmann complaining that the Budget Control Act did not cut spending enough. She especially decried the fact that the debt ceiling was increased, arguing instead that the government could avoid default simply by making immediate and steep cuts. “We needed real cuts and a fundamental restructuring in the way Washington spends taxpayer dollars to solve the spending crisis we are in,” Bachmann said in a statement after the bill was passed. “Someone has to say NO to more spending. I will.”
While Bachmann made no mention of the impact on poorer Americans, she added: “This deal puts our national security at risk because of the severe cuts to defense that kick in should the President not do his job in the next few months.”
During that period, Bachmann also was just one of nine House Republicans who earlier had opposed a Republican alternative plan, known as the “Cut Cap and Balance Act,” which would have immediately reduced spending by $111 billion. In a floor speech, Bachmann said that while she embraced the bill’s principles, “the motion does not go far enough in fundamentally restructuring the way Washington spends taxpayer dollars.”
In other words, Bachmann in her statements and comments at the time wanted to cut spending even more — except for defense spending. The current sequester cuts security and nonsecurity spending by equal amounts, so presumably under Bachmann’s 2011 formula, the cutting of nonsecurity programs that she now says “breaks everyone’s hearts” would have been deeper.
Indeed, in the debate over the bill, few lawmakers said much about sequestration, except in expressing possible concern about defense cuts. Democrats mainly said they opposed the agreement because it included no tax increases.
“Rep. Bachmann has been consistent from day one that sequestration is a bad idea, which is why she voted against it,” said spokesman Dan Kotman. “She opposed sequestration on a number of levels, and for a number of reasons, including the fact that bureaucrats seem to choose the most painful cuts to make their point. That has unfortunately proved true.”
Despite two requests, Kotman did not provide any quotes from Bachmann at the time regarding sequestration. “What is striking to me is that you think that is more notable than those who bemoan today the very bill they voted for or signed into law two years ago,” he said.
The Pinocchio Test
Bachmann is reinventing history here.
The evidence shows that she did not warn of the “calamities” that she says have befallen Americans in the sequester — and if she was really worried about the impact of sequester on the poor, she was unusually quiet about it.
Instead, she said at the time that the Budget Control Act did not cut spending enough — and she actually proposed cutting spending even deeper and faster on the very programs she now professes to care so much about.
Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker