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WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, accustomed to playing offense on congressional earmark spending, has been forced to play defense lately.
The Minnesota Republican, an outspoken critic of so-called pork-barrel spending, is embroiled in a blogger-fed television news scrap about nearly $3.8 million in earmarks that went to her Twin Cities suburban district last year.
The controversy, which illustrates the stickiness of the earmark debate, was kindled by Bachmann's assertion on Fox News last week that she had never participated in the process by which members of Congress fund pet projects, usually within their own districts.
"I have not taken earmarks in the last three years that I've been in Congress, because the system is so corrupt," Bachmann told a national television audience.
Bloggers and TV pundits, citing a fact-check by the watchdog website LegiStorm, immediately pounced and called her a hypocrite.
Bachmann was among the sponsors of seven fiscal 2008 earmarks worth over $3.76 million, some of which had been publicized before in the Star Tribune and other publications. Among the most notable spending projects: $803,600 to replace metro buses in St. Cloud; $335,000 for new equipment at the Northland Medical Center; and $94,000 for a sheriff's youth program. The last two were "solo" requests, meaning they had no other congressional sponsors.
After taking a beating in the liberal blogosphere and on MSNBC, Bachmann, a frequent guest on conservative cable television shows, went back on Fox over the weekend to rail against earmarks. But this time, she acknowledged her own record. "I have taken earmarks when I first came in," she said.
She also emphasized that she has taken a "no earmarks" pledge, as has Rep. John Kline, another Minnesota Republican.
Neither of them requested any of the $7.7 billion in earmarks contained in the 2009 spending bill that they criticized President Obama for signing last week. Both, however, acknowledge taking earmarks in the past.
Bachmann's pledge, contained on her congressional website, was made at the end of 2007, her first year in Congress. By that time, the earmarks for the federal government's 2008 budget year were already on the books.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753