The first problem with this portrayal is that Bachmann has been in Congress since 2007, only four fewer years than Hensarling. The second problem is that the Tea Party is supposed to be motivated, first and foremost, by concerns about runaway government spending and the escalating federal debt, and Hensarling has a stronger record as a fiscal conservative than Bachmann does [bold mine-DL]. Both voted against Obama’s stimulus package, the legislation that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and the auto industry bailout backed by the Bush administration. Hensarling did vote for Bush’s reckless expansion of Medicare in 2003 [bold mine-DL], but Bachmann was not a member of Congress then, so we don’t know which way she would have voted. In Hensarling’s favor, he opposes earmarks in both theory and practice, while Bachmann has managed only the former. Her stand against wasteful, unjustified spending is also belied by the agricultural subsidies her family farm has received. ~Jacob Sullum

Let me state up front that I don’t want Michelle Bachmann to have any leadership responsibilities in the 112th Congress. That said, if this is the best argument for Hensarling, he might have a harder time winning this race than I thought. It’s not really true to say that Hensarling has a “stronger record as a fiscal conservative” when he was complicit in the largest expansion of government of the last 45 years. Yes, his leadership colleagues also supported the prescription drug benefit, which is a mark against the entire leadership. It is not a justification for Hensarling, especially when he has been echoing Republican leaders’ talking points on the health care bill by attacking it for cutting Medicare.

For those not familiar with the story, Hensarling and Bachmann are contending for the position of Republican conference chair that is being vacated by Mike Pence, who may have ambitions of running for governor of Indiana in the future. Hensarling probably has the race wrapped up and has the endorsements of Pence and virtually every other leading House Republican, but Bachmann is challenging him anyway. Whether or not one likes Bachmann, and I can’t say that I do, she is one of the main organizers of the Tea Party Caucus. As far as I know, Hensarling is not a member of the caucus, and outgoing conference chair Pence was a member. Frankly, I don’t care and I doubt that it really matters, but it is hardly unreasonable for Bachmann to be considered the “Tea Party heroine” when she publicly identified herself with Tea Partiers many months before the election.

When Hensarling has to answer for supporting Medicare Part D, it is hardly worse that Bachmann has taken farm subsidies and has pursued earmarks for her district. On one side, you have someone who definitely did vote for the largest increase in unfunded entitlement liabilities in a generation, and on the other you have an eccentric, rather annoying person who has voted the right way on the bailouts, which have been the main test for Republican members in the last three years. One might point out that the leadership’s backing for Hensarling shows that none of the House leaders has much credibility to rail against both bailouts and entitlement spending, since some of them voted the wrong way on both and all of them voted the wrong way on at least one. The news that the House Republican leadership will remain basically unchanged confirms my skepticism that the House leadership will live up to the fiscally conservative rhetoric it has been selectively employing during the campaign. The Republican leadership will be essentially identical in the new Congress, except for Pence’s departure. That actually removes one of the few anti-TARP Republicans from the leadership, which makes the overall composition of the leadership worse than it was before.

There are a lot of ways to react to this story, but ridiculing Tea Partiers for preferring Bachmann to Hensarling on fiscal conservative grounds isn’t one that makes any sense.