GOP's Hensarling raising money from Obama scolding

Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, accused of deliberate falsehoods by President Obama, appeals to the base for cash

Published February 3, 2010 11:39PM (EST)

Jeb Hensarling is making a play for the lucrative title of conservative martyr.

The Texas Republican was one of the House GOP lawmakers who asked President Obama questions during Friday's televised debate. And he didn't exactly come out of the encounter unscathed. Not only did Obama refer to him as "Jim," prompting Hensarling to try to correct him ("Jeb, Mr. President,") but he also mocked him, openly, for going on a lengthy tirade instead of asking a question, and generally accused him of making stuff up:

OBAMA: Jeb, I know there's a question in there somewhere, because you're making a whole bunch of assertions, half of which I disagree with, and I'm having to sit here listening to them. At some point I know you're going to let me answer. All right.

HENSARLING: That's the question. You are soon to submit a new budget, Mr. President. Will that new budget, like your old budget, triple the national debt and continue to take us down the path of increasing the cost of government to almost 25 percent of our economy? That's the question, Mr. President.

OBAMA: Jeb, with all due respect, I've just got to take this last question as an example of how it's very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we're going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign. Now, look, let's talk about the budget once again, because I'll go through it with you line by line. The fact of the matter is, is that when we came into office, the deficit was $1.3 trillion. $1.3 [trillion.] So when you say that suddenly I've got a monthly budget that is higher than the -- a monthly deficit that's higher than the annual deficit left by the Republicans, that's factually just not true, and you know it's not true.

But instead of meekly slinking off after being called a disingenuous political hack by the president of the United States on national television, Hensarling has decided to fight back. On Wednesday, at least two different conservative groups blasted an e-mail from Hensarling to their lists, with the subject line, "I went toe-to-toe with President Obama." In it, Hensarling appeals for cash to help fight back against the "tax-and-spend Left" that's now coming after him.

"Not only did President Obama refuse to answer my question, he questioned my integrity," the e-mail reads. "He said, 'That's factually just not true and you know it's not true.' I worked hard to become an Eagle Scout, and I consider myself a man of honor. When I am wrong, I will be the first to admit it. But I'm not wrong." It goes on in the same vein. "I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of Washington politicians who claim to be fiscally responsible yet propose budgets that place our nation on the brink of bankruptcy" (emphasis Hensarling's). " Are you sick and tired, too? I want to rescue the American people... and most importantly, our children and grandchildren... from the fiscal tsunami of deficits and debt that Team Obama and Pelosi have in store for them."

The message links to a fundraising page Hensarling's campaign is running -- a fundraising effort that got a boost from Rush Limbaugh this week, when the conservative radio gasbag weighed in on Hensarling's side. "I dared to publicly challenge President Obama's dangerous spending and now the Left has launched a smear campaign against me," the fundraising page says. "I need your help to fight back." It suggests donations ranging from $25 to $2,400, the maximum allowable contribution.

It's true that Democrats have been going after Hensarling lately for advocating privatizing Social Security. But the alarm the Texan is trying to stir up among the conservative base seems mostly for show. For one, he's already got nearly $1.9 million in the bank. The only Democrat listed as a possible challenger has no money at all, and a would-be Republican primary opponent has only $307. Maybe the possibility of a special Senate election, if Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns her seat to run for governor, has visions of large campaign war chests dancing in Hensarling's eyes?

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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2010 Elections Barack Obama Jeb Hensarling R-texas