Steve Chapman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- It's a steamy August day, and the candidate arrives shortly after high noon for an outdoor rally in full sun. But bounding off the campaign bus, she is smiling broadly, and no wonder: It's a good day to be Michele Bachmann.

That's because the credit rating service Standard and Poor's has downgraded U.S. government securities, just days after Congress and the president agreed to a plan to raise the federal debt ceiling -- a plan that drew a "no" vote from Rep. Bachmann when it came to the House floor.

Most political rallies begin with some local functionary making a warm introduction, but Bachmann needs no assistance. To the thumping beat of Elvis Presley's "Promised Land," she mounts an empty platform, grabs a microphone and begins flailing Barack Obama.

"This is the first president in the history of the country who under his watch, we've seen a downgrade of United States credit," she exclaims to an audience of several dozen, in a voice that would do service in a stadium. This historic setback, which two World Wars, a Great Depression and the 9/11 attacks couldn't achieve, Barack Obama's policies managed to bring about.

The problem, in her view, is out-of-control spending and a soaring federal debt, which during her five years in Congress has risen by 75 percent. "If you're in a hole, you stop digging," cries Bachmann. "President Obama has done just the opposite. He decided to go out and hire a steam shovel, to make that hole bigger!"

Instead of reversing this pattern of fiscal irresponsibility, she says, the recent budget deal perpetuates it. "My position has been: You don't raise the debt ceiling, period ," she declares, at a volume that could scatter birds from telephone wires.

Never before has the debt ceiling been raised by so much in one step, and her view is that instead of calming worries about the government's credit-worthiness, it fed them. Besides the S&P downgrade, she says, "we saw a historic, unprecedented fall in the stock market."

Obama, she charges, has yet to produce a plan to balance the budget. Bachmann, however, flourishes a pen to sign a pledge to support a plan sponsored by a group called Strong America Now, which would eliminate the deficit by 2017 without raising taxes.

"We can't wait another day to solve our debt problem," she implores, "because the problems aren't in the future. The problems are today."

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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