Reps. Barney Frank and Michele Bachmann Debate

Reps. Barney Frank and Michele Bachmann Debate

By Lou Dobbs Tonight - May 18, 2009

DOBBS: The tactics of the left wing activist and advocacy group ACORN under investigation in states all across the country. The group has close ties to President Obama. We've covered the actions of ACORN extensively here on this broadcast. And a new controversy over whether groups like ACORN should continue to receive federal funding. That is the topic of tonight's debate, "Face-Off".

Joining me now Congresswoman Michele Bachmann -- good to have you with us...


DOBBS: ... and Congressman Barney Frank -- good to have you with us.

(CROSSTALK) DOBBS: He is the chairman, of course, of the House Financial Services Committee. Well, let's start with you, Mr. Chairman. Your colleague, Congresswoman Bachmann put forward an amendment in a bill that you originally supported that would have removed organizations like ACORN -- that is those indicted or convicted of voter fraud to prevent them from receiving taxpayer money. You initially supported it then -- and approved of it and then you reversed position. Why?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well I -- we were at the end of a very long mark-up on a very important Bill dealing with stopping predatory lending, and it did not get the attention I should have given it. I looked at it. I thought it was OK. I didn't read it carefully.

An hour later, I did get a chance to read it carefully and reversed.

You said indicted or convicted. That's the critical difference. We did pass an amendment in the House that said if anybody in any organization -- this isn't ACORN specific -- any organization if America where you are convicted of election fraud, then you are knocked out.

But I think it's a great mistake in this country to say that if you're simply -- if any employee is indicted, that you lose your funding. That allows any prosecutor anywhere who's got an axe to grind to indict someone.

The other point I want to make though is this, Lou. I'm kind of surprised to be accused of funding ACORN. It was the Bush administration that funded ACORN. I went and looked at the record, because I can guarantee you that no congressional enactment that I'm aware of has ever earmarked a penny for ACORN.

From 2001, when George Bush became president until 2008, the Bush administration provided over $13 million to ACORN. It was the Bush administration that maintained -- ACORN has two operations. They have a certified housing counseling group -- I didn't even know this -- and the Bush administration funded it.

So the question I would have to my Republican colleagues is did you try to get George Bush to cut off the funding? They got funding for counseling, for predatory lending...

DOBBS: Well, let's do that. Let's ask Congresswoman Bachmann -- Congresswoman?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Well, what I am concerned about is the eligibility criteria of organizations who have access to government grants. ACORN has received approximately $53 million since the early 1990's. Now, between the stimulus and the budget that was passed by President Obama, they have access potentially to $8.5 billion.

This is serious money for an organization that's been under indictment in over 12 states. They have a pattern of indictment for voter fraud. It's very concerning. No organization has a right to federal taxpayer money.


BACHMANN: And I think Congress has the fiduciary responsibility to set the bar very high for organizations...

FRANK: Well, I noticed, Lou...

BACHMANN: ... that receive taxpayer money.

FRANK: I noticed that Congresswoman Bachmann didn't answer your question. If it is wrong -- and I'm appalled by some of what I've learned -- why didn't the Republicans -- they were in the majority in Congress in fact until 2007. And George Bush was president. And when you had a Republican majority in both houses and George Bush is president, millions of dollars went to the ACORN housing counseling group.

The other thing I would say is this. The amendment didn't say if there's a pattern of indictments. It said if any single individual, in any organization in America is indicted by any prosecutor, the funding ends. By the way, we substituted one that said conviction. If there is a conviction of an individual, then either that individual gets fired or they lose the money.

We also accepted an amendment offered by one of the Republicans that called for much more transparency who gets the funds. But again my question is where were the Republicans when George Bush was giving the ACORN housing counseling entity millions of dollars?

DOBBS: Congresswoman, the chairman persists.

BACHMANN: Well, I would agree. I think that if there were indictments going on during those years, that they should also have to come under the criteria that I am proposing. They should not have had access...

FRANK: Did you ask Bush to cut it off?


BACHMANN: I came into Congress in January of 2004 -- or two -- I'm sorry -- 2007 -- and from that point on, I have been looking at this issue in the Financial Services Committee. And I think that it would be wise to set the criteria, not just for ACORN, but for any organization. We need to have a high bar.

FRANK: I agree.

BACHMANN: No one has the right to access.

FRANK: I agree.

BACHMANN: And I think an indictment is not a low standard. It needs to be a high standard.

FRANK: I think the single indictment of any individual is too low. We had Tom DeLay indicted...

BACHMANN: Well, I don't agree...


FRANK: Well, may I finish? Because...

BACHMANN: I don't think that's true.


FRANK: May I finish?

BACHMANN: Because ACORN has had a pattern of indictment...

FRANK: No, but that's not...

BACHMANN: Not just one...

FRANK: Excuse me...

BACHMANN: But they've had a pattern...

FRANK: Excuse me, Michele...

BACHMANN: ... in state after state after state.

FRANK: But that's not what your amendment said. And we are making laws for the whole country. Your amendment said a single indictment anywhere of any individual. AIPAC, the Israeli -- pro- Israel lobbying group, they had two people indicted. Those were just dismissed. We had Tom DeLay...

BACHMANN: Mr. Chairman...

FRANK: I'm sorry, Michelle, please don't interrupt. I know you don't want to hear this. But Tom DeLay, the leader of the Republican Party, was under indictment for a long time. He continued to be a voting member of the House. You didn't say a pattern. And the other thing I would say, you say you came to Congress in 2007. In that year, George Bush's administration gave ACORN $1.6 million. Did you ask George Bush to cut off the funding? I don't want to put every organization in America in jeopardy, if any prosecutor anywhere indicts any single individual, and lets that indictment sit for years without prosecuting it.

DOBBS: Can I ask you both a question about this? And that is, why should the federal government, the American taxpayers, be funding ACORN or any organization like it? Why in the world is the American taxpayer being put on the hook for those so-called nonprofits that are doing work that is really a matter for the political parties, if they must? But, secondly, if it goes to the issue of housing, we have an executive department, the Housing Urban Development. We have plenty of agencies, organizations and federal employees responsible for this. Why should the taxpayer be funding anything like ACORN or any organization coming forward as a nonprofit? Can I start with you, Mr. Chairman?

FRANK: Yes. That's a Republican philosophy to some extent, Lou, which is you should contract things out.

I agree with you. We could hire people to do this. But there's been this Republican philosophy that you want to keep down permanent employees of the government.


DOBBS: Mr. Chairman, you just said that George Bush and the Republicans have been funding ACORN. It doesn't seem like a particularly Republican view.

FRANK: It is. It is a Republican view. One, I didn't say that they have been funding ACORN. I am reading you the numbers. Every year in the Bush administration, ACORN received, the ACORN housing operation, more than $1 million. They have a separate housing operation, a separate other operation. Some people think they're not separate, but that was the Bush case.

The reason that people do these private groups, you said why doesn't HUD do it? There is this Republican philosophy in general that says contract out. Don't have the bureaucracy grow up. Hire private sector entities to do this to keep the government from growing. I would be very happy instead to expand the role of the government.

But again, I want to stress, this is when the Republicans were in control of both houses of Congress and the administration. And that's when ACORN was getting millions of dollars.

DOBBS: As you know Mr. Chairman, I'm no great admirer of the Republican Party than I am the Democratic.

FRANK: I understand that. But I'm talking to Ms. Bachmann, why didn't she ask George Bush when she was a member of Congress in 2007 to stop giving ACORN $1 million?

DOBBS: Congresswoman if you would, why should we be funding anything like ACORN, any nonprofit? This is crazy to even be thinking about billions upon billions of dollars for the American taxpayer to be handing out to nonprofits over which they have no control or influence. At least you would think that there would be a semblance of concern in this country that we have accountability, if there is such a thing, through our federal government and our federal agencies.

BACHMANN: Lou, certainly, that's exactly correct, because we simply don't have the money anymore. The federal government has overcommitted itself to expenditures. And you're right. Why should the federal government have to take tax money away from its citizens to go and register people? That should be a function of the political parties. That's not necessarily the duty of the federal government. And I would agree with you.

Again, we are talking about potential of access to ACORN or other similarly situated groups of $8.5 billion in grants. This is an enormous amount of money that we simply don't have. And I agree with you, we need to look at the premise, and maybe get out of this business altogether.

FRANK: Lou, I have to respond. This $8 billion, that's assuming that ACORN -- the Bush administration funded ACORN narrowly for housing counseling and predatory lending. And I agree with you, by the way, that some of these things could be better done by expanding the government. But we're told to contract out. And this is an example of this philosophy.

But the notion that (inaudible) $8 billion is nonsense. There's the matter...

BACHMANN: There's not...

FRANK: I'm sorry, Michele, why do you keep interrupting? I'm sorry you don't like what I'm saying. But the fact is, if you look at what their organization does, housing counseling, under the administration, the Bush -- they have been getting about $1 million a year. You did not object when they got $1 million from Bush. You can object now. But it's not $8 billion.

DOBBS: Congresswoman, you get the last word, very quickly.

BACHMANN: Thank you, Lou. I do object, and I do object to expanding government to shift it from nonprofit to government. We just need to get out of this business altogether and stop spending the money.

DOBBS: Congresswoman, we thank you very much, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Congressman Barney Frank. Thank you both for being here.

BACHMANN: Thank you, Lou.

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