Hardliners in debt talks have debt problems of their own
Utah Sen. Mike Lee
July 28th, 2011
08:29 PM ET
3 years ago

Hardliners in debt talks have debt problems of their own

Washington (CNN) – They’re hard-charging, compromise-damning members of Congress, and they’ve changed the debate in Washington over the size and spending of the government.

In recent days, Republican hard-liners in the debt ceiling talks have been vociferous in their rhetoric.

At a tea party rally, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said his faction needs to push forward a balanced budget amendment and other measures “… in order to save our country from a Congress that for decades has been burying our children and our grandchildren, both born and unborn, under a mountain of debt.”

But according to recently released disclosure forms, Lee and others in his caucus have some significant personal debt of their own.

The documents — annual personal financial disclosure forms that were released in June — show that Lee had amassed at least $15,000 in credit card debt and had a $50,000 line of credit at a Utah bank as of late last year.

He’s not alone. Republican Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas had at least $15,000 of debt accumulated on an American Express card, according to the forms. Griffin, who won his seat with tea party support, has recently said Washington has “a spending addiction.”

Rep. Kevin Yoder, a freshman Republican from Kansas, said in a recent press release, “Washington needs to cut up the credit cards.” But Yoder’s own form shows he amassed at least $15,000 in what’s called a “revolving charge account” with Citigroup.

The forms are not exact. They do not reveal exact amounts of assets or liabilities. They only list ranges; for example, the form for Griffin shows his credit card debt to be between $15,000 and $50,000.

The disclosures, added to the recent language these congressmen have been using to stoke the debate in Washington, have drawn criticism from at least one watchdog group.

Ryan Alexander, president of the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense, says, “It raises that question: How are you managing your personal debt? You're telling us how to manage our debt as a country, you're making ultimatums, and we don't know what you're doing with your personal debt. And they're holding credit card debt. Not every American does that. That's a choice that you made, to put that kind of debt on your own personal finances.”

CNN contacted the offices of Griffin and Yoder for comment. They didn’t respond. An aide to Lee said the senator could not do an interview with CNN, but the aide did push back hard on the criticism.

“Senator Lee's personal finances are in order. Like many Americans who are not independently wealthy, Senator Lee is managing his debt responsibly,” said spokesman Brian Phillips.

Separately, Phillips told CNN he thought the criticism of Lee was “crackpot.” He said given that the senator is managing his debt responsibly and there is no evidence of financial impropriety, who are the critics to question his role in the budget debate.

Then there’s the case of freshman Rep. Joe Walsh, Republican from Illinois. Walsh is another tea party favorite who has pushed for a tougher line with Democrats in negotiations.

This week Walsh told CNN, “Thank God congressmen like me were here. Imagine - step back and imagine - if Republicans hadn’t taken over Congress, this city would have raised the debt limit who knows how much.”

But Walsh’s ex-wife Laura Walsh says he needs to pay up on a big debt: $117,437 in child support. That figure is part of a lawsuit against Walsh she filed.

CNN could not reach Walsh’s attorney, R. Steven Polachek, for comment. But Polachek told the Chicago Sun-Times the claim of a $117,437 debt is “unfounded”: “I dispute that he owes the child support that she’s claiming or anywhere near that amount.”

Contacted by CNN, Walsh issued a statement saying in part: “It is not lost on me that a court case filed almost 8 months ago regarding a marriage that ended more than 8 years ago would be brought up today … I’ve always given everything I have to meet my financial obligations to my children and I will fight until my last breath against anyone who says otherwise … These latest attacks against me are false and I will fight them in the appropriate venue.”

The attorney for Laura Walsh told CNN that Walsh has not paid any child support since 2008.

In an interview with CNN, Walsh admitted that he had struggled financially and had lost a home. “Look, I’m the most openly vetted candidate in the world. I have had financial troubles and I have talked about them throughout the campaign,” he said, “This is where the real America is.”


Filed under: Congress • Debt • Deficit • Tea Party movement
soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. donationcan

    I agree. EVERYONE needs to get out of debt. Not just our national debt but with personal debt as well. The way a person manages their personal debt is how they will manage their work budget. I'm in charge of my supply budget at work and as a fiscal conservative ($0 in unsecured debt, money in savings, live below my means, etc) I can't manage my work budget because at work it's all about spend-spend-spend. I'm completely uncomfortable with spending end-of-year money just so we don't lose it the next year.

    July 28, 2011 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  2. Emmy Skaddittle

    maybe their should be an ethics investigation, into that deadbeat dad

    July 28, 2011 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  3. TEW

    Notice how its always the "loud mouth idiots" claiming righousness that always seem to be the biggest culprits. Walsh is a cowardly hipocrite and I hope he falls off that pedestal he has positioned himself on.

    July 28, 2011 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  4. amlcpamaine

    these guys make me sick with their "holier than thou" talk – when there's only one thing they care about – getting reelected and taking US to the cleaners. They're tools for the Koch brothers but can't even manage that well. What a bunch of losers!

    July 28, 2011 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  5. Lost in Texas FOREVER

    more do as I say do but not as I do Republicans...so what else is new? True everybody or anybody can have financial issues, but I have a BIG issue with those who don't have their private lives in order trying to tell us what to do or not to do. As for Walsh he had a heck of a nerve telling President Obama that he "has no shame" when he himself is two years behind on child support payments and I guess he had one of those subprime loans with an ARM and lost his house as well. Until he has his own stuff in order he should say nothing else.

    July 28, 2011 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  6. The Greedy Old Pigs have declared class war on US!

    Looks like this vile teatard wants to do to America what he did to his wife and kids.

    July 28, 2011 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  7. sick of republican phonies

    Jeez, I got nothing else to say... my handle says it all.

    July 28, 2011 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  8. DOCinPA

    Ya know, I'm probably one of those bleeding heart, MSNBC liberals. So much for that. But, even I think that, at least on the surface, this really is 'crackpot' stuff.

    July 28, 2011 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  9. Rick McDaniel

    The issue is........whether any of that is overdue. If not, then it is a moot point.

    July 28, 2011 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  10. NoTags

    Take names, register to vote if you're not registered and kick these bums out in 2012. This is just what this Country needs a bunch of Congressmen who can't even manage their own budgets messing with the budget of millions of Americans.

    To think our taxes are paying these jerks $170,000+ per year + all their perks just makes me want to vomit. I guarantee you I'll not forget when I go to the polls in 2012 and I hope the rest of America doesn't forget.

    July 28, 2011 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  11. Mike in SA

    Are they able to pay for the debt they have? That's the question. I have debt too, however, I could easily close one of my IRAs and pay off all my debt and still be very solvent. Is the government able to say the same thing? I think not.

    July 28, 2011 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  12. 2012liberal

    Low & behold. Everyone one way or another has debit. Nice if u can walk in and buy a house or car with out any payments. We as a country cant b the same way. We have unforeseeable situation that arise that gov need 2 help the least of us with. Unemployment &natural disasters to name a couple. Wake up people. Raise revenue and dont keep robbing senior citizen of their ss. Gore said he d put it n lockbox. Bush started touting that 2. Now look where we are. Cant walk the walk or talk the talk. It needs 2 b replaced by those that have gotten the most from the least of us over the years. Time 2 roost & give back all that was taken!

    July 28, 2011 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  13. TBSkins

    Makes me wonder, in the case of Walsh, if there is some little-known law out there that prevents Congressional wages from being garnished. Stiffing his children like he is stiffing the American public, what a shame.

    July 28, 2011 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  14. Larry L

    I expect the Tea Party puppets to be incapable of managing their own lives. The group of angry, white, bigoted radicals that call themselves the Tea Party are not the sort of people anybody would pick to run a corporation or any other complicated financial operation. Sadly, the Republicans have allowed them to hold our country hostage. We're held prisoner by the tattooed white trash of America.

    July 28, 2011 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  15. Outdoor Girl

    All this article shows is that the American public has to treat elections as if they were job interviews. We have to be able to ask the hard questions and get verifiable answers. We can no longer rely on the media to ask responsible questions and we can no longer expect direct answers from the candidates. Once a candidate has declared himself, no questions that are job related can be declared out-of-bounds when asked by a voter. And since the candidate proposes to represent all citizens in their district, no one can be blocked from attending open political events on the basis of their party affiliation.

    July 28, 2011 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  16. thomas

    Great !
    I think there due for modification !

    July 28, 2011 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  17. Randy, San Francisco

    When did inflexibility, unwillingness to compromise, reckless partisanship, and blind allegiance to an ideology become a badge of pride? The country is on the brink of a 2nd recession or worst thanks to a small group of Tea Party wingnuts.

    July 28, 2011 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  18. curtish

    At least they spent their own money. Obama is spending mine!!

    July 28, 2011 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  19. A Real Patriot

    These are the Charlatans that Independents in this country elected to take over the House of Representatives. Hope you're happy.

    More importantly..I hope you've learned your lesson.

    July 28, 2011 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  20. John

    Funny - those guys always say that they have to keep up with their bills so the Government has to too. I guess now I know what to make of that one!

    July 28, 2011 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  21. Jim

    Wow. How can we expect guys that can't even manage their own finances to make decisions about the government finances? I hope that cnn follows up on this story a few months from now. It will be interesting to see if their debt mysteriously disappears after they do their puppet master's bidding with the debt ceiling.

    July 28, 2011 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  22. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    All the Democrat voters who sat out the mid terms are to thank for this mess. When will you ever learn?????

    July 28, 2011 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  23. RL Turn

    Talk about a hack report by Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell. Not sure how this even qualifies as news, but the point is these are they're PERSONAL financials issues and I could care less. What I do care about is the PUBLIC debt we are passing on to ensure our children are indentured servants.
    BTW, to be fair, none of the people discussed in this article have a debt to income ratio so completely lopsided as the US governments. So instead of talking about $15k credit card bills, talk about $114T in unfunded liabilities! Ridiculous and very sad article.

    July 28, 2011 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  24. Jenny Tripp

    Sorry, but how does having some personal debt make a person disqualified to talk about government debt? The two things are not genuinely comparable. It's not suggested here that these guys intend to not pay their bills, or to run that personal debt so high it's unpayable except by their great grandchildren. Nobody says that any of them has in effect stolen some other guy's credit card and rode it like a rented mule, run it up like they'd never have to face the reckoning. No, that distinction belongs to our Congress, and to our President, the Check-Kiter-In-Chief, who have wrought this great unwieldy Frankenstein of debt. And how many people out there – you know, regular working people – aren't sweating the load over mortgage, car payments, insurance, and yeah, credit cards? I don't know about you guys but I can relate, to a few of those on that list anyhow. Honestly if it didn't make me so bloody tired, I'd lay out the statistics, yet again. But why bother? The problem with the loss of general trust of the media, coming from both sides, is that it leaves us with no common ground. I believe what I believe because it is what I see and hear; life in the echo chamber.
    But I tell you what I do know. You can't make the rules unless you run Congress and the White House. You can't change the game, or make the overriding principal Accountability – because you can't win. And if you do win it, get that bill or bills passed he won't sign. Game over?
    Hell, no – game on. The big game is coming November 2012. You best grab your helmets, kiss your mamas, and get those votes out like no votes were ever gotten out before. Because if we don't unite, if we don't win that, if we don't put a conservative majority in Congress and a conservative in the White House, it really will be Game Over.

    July 28, 2011 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  25. SecedingfromTexas

    Which is exactly why these people are called hypocrits, liars, and inept in dealing with anything remotely close to the
    financial situation of the United States. I am sick of them, Palin, Bachmann, Cantor, Boehner, Mc Connell, the
    Kochs, Norquist, Dick Armey, and anybody else who pretends to have answers for all Americans. They are useless,
    spinelss individuals who are feeling a little "power" and obviously have no idea what to do with it. If they want to
    destroy themselves, the Republican Party, and hopefully the Tea Party, power to them, but they will not take the
    rest of the hard working American people with them.
    The hate has reached a new high, the rhetoric is so ignorant and assinine it is hard to believe. I have reached such
    a level of contempt for these people that I have surprised myself. This is not funny nor cute. A day of
    reckoning is coming, I hope it will be on their backs, and we can reach some level of normalcy, decency, and
    compromise.

    July 28, 2011 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
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