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Bachmann responds to Obama with 'cut government'

The mood inside the U.S. House chamber during Tuesday night's State of the Union speech was more subdued than in recent years, but after the president delivered his speech U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann took him head-on.

"For two years, President Obama made promises just like the ones we heard him make tonight," the Minnesota congresswoman said. "Yet still we have high unemployment, devalued housing prices and the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing."

Even with a new atmosphere that followed the Jan. 8 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, Republican Bachmann was strongly critical of Democrat Obama.

Obama called for keeping, but fixing, new health care policy; Bachmann urged its full repeal. The president said he wanted to freeze domestic spending for five years; the congresswoman he said that in the past, but did not follow through.

Bachmann used the nationally televised response to Obama's speech to ask federal officials to slow down spending and she promised to fight for that and other conservative ideals.

Talking to voters, Bachmann said that the message from the 2010 election was clear: "Last November you went to the polls and voted out big-spending politicians and you put in their place men and women with a commitment to follow the Constitution and cut the size of government."

Bachmann was in the spotlight throughout Tuesday as she apparently considers running for president next year. The congresswoman, who serves an area from St. Cloud to Woodbury and other eastern Twin Cities suburbs, did not deliver the official Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address, but she received far more publicity than Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan did for his GOP-endorsed speech.

Bachmann, speaking at the request of the conservative and libertarian Tea Party movement, listed suggestions federal policymakers could follow, including passing a federal constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget to be introduced today by several lawmakers, including new Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Reaction from other Minnesotans was predictably mixed, with Republicans more likely to side with Bachmann and Democrats on Obama's side.

Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, said he agrees with Obama putting a priority on creating jobs.

"I've spent the past few weeks traveling around Minnesota talking with workers, small business owners and educators," Franken said. "And from East Grand Forks and Alexandria to Rochester and Duluth, everyone reinforced that investing in education, job training and innovation is essential to our economic future and creating long-term prosperity."

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, liked the speech.

"Under President Obama's leadership, our country is on its way to a new era in which we will lead the world into the 21st century through public-private partnerships in innovation, research, education and infrastructure," Dayton said.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Republican who serves an area south of the Twin Cities, pointed out the country's "staggering $14 trillion" deficit.

"While the nation suffers from 20 straight months of unemployment above 9 percent, Washington has been on an unsustainable job-killing spending spree," Kline said. "After listening to the president's remarks, I hope his actions match the rhetoric we heard tonight."

On his way out of the House chamber, Obama gave U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a kiss.

Newcomer U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, who represents northeastern Minnesota echoed other Republican comments. He liked what Obama said about helping businesses, including lowering taxes, but wondered if the president meant it.

"I agree with 80 percent of what the president said," Cravaack said.

But last year, the congressman added, "I disagree with 80 percent of what he did.

Promoting small businesses and the military were important for Cravaack, who took office early this month.

"I really like what he said about freezing spending," he said, and he saw no opposition from Democrats who sat near him. "My hope of hopes is that we can all work together in tackling this debt problem."

Throughout Tuesday, Bachmann was discussed on cable news channels and mentioned in State of the Union preview news stories across the country. In a time when she appears to be thinking about running for president, she received far more notice than any other potential Obama challenger, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Commentator Kathleen Parker of CNN called Bachmann's decision to offer a State of the Union response "awkward" for the Republican establishment.

"Michele Bachmann, she is a lightning rod," Parker said.

In the speech, which she said was at the request of the conservative and libertarian Tea Party, Bachmann challenged Obama as she showed charts illustrating what she called Obama-caused economic problems.

Bachmann said that Obama failed to deliver on promises, including to lower the 7.8 percent unemployment rate of two years ago.

"Not only did that plan fail to deliver, but within three months the national jobless rate spiked to 9.4 percent," Bachmann said. "And sadly, it hasn't been lower for 20 straight months. While the government grew, we lost more than 2 million jobs."

She said he also failed to improve government, breaking another promise.

"Instead of a leaner, smarter government, we bought a bureaucracy that tells us which light bulbs to buy and which may put 16,500 IRS agents in charge of policing President Obama's healthcare bill," Bachmann said.

Obama said he knows some do not like the health-care reform bill he championed, but said it could be fixed by making changes. Bachmann said it needs a complete repeal.

"After the $700 billion bailout, the trillion-dollar stimulus, and the massive bill with over 9,000 earmarks, many of you implored Washington to please stop spending money we don't have," she said.

Bachmann urged Americans to tell their lawmakers their opinions.

"Please know how important your calls, visits, and letters are to the maintenance of our liberties," she said. "Because of you, Congress responded and we are starting to undo the damage that's been done. We believe in lower taxes, we believe a limited view of government and the exceptionalism of America. And I believe America is the indispensible nation of the world."

Bachmann said Obama should eliminate some of the 132 regulations his administration implemented in the past two years, claiming they cost at least $100 million.

She suggested that the Environmental Protection Agency end its cap-and-trade policy that was designed to help control pollution. But she claimed it is overly costly.

Bachmann's Tuesday night State of the Union rebuttal was the latest in a busy few days.

She spoke to a conservative group Friday in Iowa, which holds the first presidential caucuses in a year. She also has talked to anti-abortion groups in Minnesota and Washington in recent days and on Monday criticized Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, for signing on to an Democratic health-care program expansion.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.