Michele Bachmann doesn't matter anymore. Oh, sure, she proves entertaining at debates, serving as a human laugh track, and she cannily referred repeatedly to "NewtRomney" at Saturday night's soiree in Des Moines, effectively identifying the two leading GOP candidates to their earlier support of a health care debate.
And for the fifteen minutes Bachmann was a factor, we on the left had her all wrong. Oh, she makes her mistakes, such as when she told New Hampshire Republicans "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord," though Lexington and Concord are in Massachusetts and not New Hampshire.
Still, she is not ill-informed. When the issue turned (at 21:14:07 of the Chicago Sun-Times transcript) to Social Security, Bachmann, Santorum, Paul, and Romney had a go at it. While Romney (acting as if he is still the front-runner) said little, Santorum (wrongly identified in the transcript as the other Rick) claimed Obama is "the one defunding the Social Security system."
Santorum, contrary to the former House Speaker currently leading the pack, does know a little about foreign policy. Economic policy, however, is not his strong suit and, as the tired cliche has it, would have trouble getting a clue if you spotted him the "l," "u," and "e."
President Obama, who wants to extend and increase the cut in the payroll tax paid by the employee and extend the same rate to some employers, is not "defunding the Social Security system." Not in the least. Money from the general fund is being transferred to the Social Security trust fund in an amount equal to the loss of revenue from reduction in the tax. In turn, pursuant to the plan of President Obama and Senate Democrats, the general fund would be replenished by a surtax on millionaires.
Santorum, clearly, is wrong. So, too, is Ron Paul, who repeated the old, very convenient line, "the trust fund is gone." Not the trust fund is declining or failed to pay full benefits last year because of the economic slump. Dean Baker notes that only in the last few years has the fund begun "drawing on the interest on the government bonds it held. That is exactly what the law dictates, when Social Security needs more money than it collects in taxes, it is supposed to draw on the bonds that were purchased with Social Security taxes in the past. This means it is self-financing." According to the latest report from the Social Security Trustees, full benefits ought to be able to be made from annual revenues until approximately 2037, at which time 78% of benefits can be paid from annual revenues with no change made at all to the funding mechanism.
One can only speculate whether Santorum and Paul are lying or merely misinformed. But one does not have to speculate, but merely look at the totality of the statement, to know that Representative Michele Bachmann is less misinformed than dishonest. She stated (beginning at 21:15:13 of the transcript)
The reason why this is so detrimental to the economy as well is that this blew a hole, in other words, it took away $111 billion away from the Social Security Trust Fund. This is a very real issue for senior citizens, because we have to pay the Social Security checks that are going out.
I'm completely different from b-- Barack Obama on this issue. I don't agree with Barack Obama. We have candidates on this stage that are standing with Barack Obama on this issue. But this year alone, it-- this will also cost the Social Security Trust Fund another $112 billion. And we don't have enough money this year in the Social Security Trust Fund to put out those checks.
Which means, we have to go to the General Treasury to get the money. And trust me, when you open the door to the General Treasury.....
Like Santorum, who maintains the President is "defunding the Social Security system," Bachmann initially contends the payroll tax cut "blew a hole" when" it took away $111 billion away from the Social Security Trust Fund." Of course, it blew no hole because the revenue was replenished. But a moment later, it became evident that Bachmann knows this because she recognized "we have to go to the General Treasury to get the money."
There has been an underlying suspicion, perhaps because Michele Bachmann is an evangelical Christian, that she is earnest, though confused, ignorant, ill-informed, or simplistic. But she is none of the latter. But if her words are carefully considered, the politician sufficiently cagey to continue to refer to "NewtRomney" is really quite clever or, as another cliche has it, crazy like a fox.