In a very fiery exchange, Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann dueled over the ins and outs of Minnesota’s 2005 budget standoff, wading into abortion politics along the way.
For non-Minnesotan observers, however, the debate was likely a blur. So here’s a quick and dirty explainer. The big — and most currently relevant — compromise on Pawlenty’s behalf was a 75-cent fee on cigarette packs, dubbed a tax by critics, in order to free up cash for K-12 education.
“I did agree to the cigarette fee,” Pawlenty said in the debate. “I regretted that. The courts held it to be a fee. But nevertheless it was an increase in revenue.”
But Bachmann charged, noting that she had been “very vocal against that tax, and I fought against that tax.” However, she did in the end vote for the bill that contained it. So what happened?
“The problem is when the deal was put together Governor Pawlenty cut a deal with the special interest groups and he put in the same bill a vote to increase the cigarette tax as well as a vote that would take away protections from the unborn,” she said. “And I made a decision. I believe in the sanctity of human life. I believe you can get money wrong, but you can’t get life wrong. And that’s why I came down on that decision I made.”
Responded Pawlenty: “What is wrong in the answer is the answer. Congresswoman Bachmann didn’t vote for that bill because of stripping away of pro-life protection, she voted for it and is now creating that as an excuse.”
So what the heck were they talking about? Well, the big heavy lift in the budget deal that ended the shutdown was the cigarette fee. Republicans in the state legislature weren’t any happier about new taxes than Republicans in Congress are today. As a sweetener for wavering conservatives, the health and human services funding bill containing the fee also contained an anti-abortion provision to try and shame women seeking to end their pregnancy. Under the new law, doctors would be required to ask patients more than 20 weeks pregnant seeking an abortion whether they would like to first give their fetus anesthesia before the procedure.
The abortion part of the bill starkly divided state conservative groups: the main anti-abortion group, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, endorsed the health bill. But the main anti-tax group, the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, opposed it. After a vote led by Bachmann to strip the bill of the cigarette tax failed 47-19 in the Senate, she ended up voting for the final deal.
So Bachmann’s language was off — she was forced to choose between voting against a bill adding a pro-life provision and voting for a tax increase. Pawlenty noted Bachmann’s account of events didn’t add up: “Her answer is illogical, if there were two bad things in the bill, a tax increase and hypothetically stripping away pro-life protections, which we weren’t, then it is a double reason to vote against it. She voted for it.” And, interestingly enough, the “special interest” she repeatedly decried in the debate were in part pro-life activists.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.