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.”