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

    Nice, so tea party (that's some strong "tea" they are drinking to be this irrational) votes in a bunch of people with big debt. Wait a second, isn't being in congress a pretty well paid job? Huh, I wonder if these people are being responsible to their countrymen and would be willing to take a cut in their salary as part of the cost cutting measures?

    It's beyond funny that these people are pointing a finger without realizing that 3 are pointing back at themselves.

    July 28, 2011 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  2. Carey

    this is maddening...outrageous actually.

    July 28, 2011 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  3. cardog

    I knew when I saw this guy Joe Walsh on the Chris Mathews show, that there was something not quite right about him. To me, he came across like person not wanting to do what was good/best for the country but rather a newly elected Tea Party radical, with a major chip on his shoulder.
    Now we com to find out that he's a dead beat dad owing his ex-wife $177,000.00??? When you cannot or will not keep your own house in order, how the hell do you have the audasity to tell me or any American, in your righteous manner, what to do or what should be done?

    July 28, 2011 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  4. WTF?

    Their call deadbeat Tea Hobbits trying to tell normal Americans what to do. What a joke!

    July 28, 2011 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  5. Ralph

    IIt is all about the concentration of wealth, these crisis always make the rich richer and the poor of middle class poorer. A strong man can weather the storm and come out OK, but a weaker man will wither. Have you moved your retirement funds to safe havens if the debt limit is not paid? But most of the wealthy have people who do that for them. So those who do not even work for a living are covered and your 40 years of "safe" investment for your retirement is now at risk.

    July 28, 2011 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  6. John F. Fay

    I guess the idea here is that since you can't argue logically in favor of raising the debt ceiling, you engage in ad hominem attacks against individual politicians. Can we take it, then, that you have no logical reasons to raise the debt ceiling and that the Tea Party people are in fact correct?

    – John F. Fay

    July 29, 2011 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  7. Ralph

    The Supreme court ruled that according to the constitution money is an expression of free speech. That means that corporations can give as much money as they want to politicians. Well the constitution does not say that stealing is wrong or that murder is wrong. We look at the law for guidelines there. Let's pass some laws that limit campaign funding from corporations. That is what has caused this huge problem with the Gov not representing the people anymore.

    July 29, 2011 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  8. RLK

    Let the personal smearing begin...

    July 29, 2011 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  9. mesamick

    No wonder these teagaggers all say it's just fine for the US to default on it's debts...After all they think it's morally OK since they do it as part of their "family values" lifestyle all the time...

    July 29, 2011 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  10. Greater Good

    So, what this article tells us is that these Tea Party congressmen are hypocrites. Hmmm, pretty much something we could infer based on the fact that they hammer Obama about jobs, but haven't passed a jobs bill. Now, with the debt clock ticking away, they trot out the same tired banner of fiscal responsibility–all while clinging to a position that is the pinnacle of economic and political irresponsibility. They got in over their heads, gambled with their lives, and now are gambling with ours.

    I, for one, am glad these so called men of principle are being identified as individuals, not just a stereotyped group. This will help voters in the next election realize not only who mishandled this debt ceiling debate, but who misled their constituents from the start. If it's notoriety they want, well, it's notoriety they will get.

    July 29, 2011 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  11. Steven Colo

    The party that gave us the chicken hawks that sent off our youth to war now gives us the deadbeats that want to take over our economy.

    July 29, 2011 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  12. FactFeed

    If a doctor told a Tea Party patient that the only way he could stop the 'hang-nail' pain would be to terminate his life, the Tea Party patient would, without hesitation, elect that option, deeming it to be a good trade-off. Radical, extremist ideologues simply do NOT think like normal, sane people think. Their cerebral deficits are something much more severe than mere "neurosis" – but usually not quite as severe as a full-blown psychotic break from reality. But whatever reality they have left, is profoundly distorted. And now we have inserted these unstable loonytoons in the Congress. So we shouldn't be surprised when they malfunction in colossal ways. The many Tea Party candidates who lost their November election bids, lost for extremely good reasons. And those who won, won for utterly inexplicable reasons. Now it's time to eat the consequences.

    July 29, 2011 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  13. BJ

    Its called "do what I say not what I do" . Don't you people realize that, these teabaggers are just puppets of freedom works and heritage foundation and Crossroads? they are just a bunch of robots "turn right" yes master! 'turn left" yes sir! "bend over" I'm ready master!!! No wondert they hate the department of education!!
    Annual budget: $121 billion
    Summary: Since the department’s creation in 1979, trillions of tax dollars have yielded declining test scores as American education has fallen behind many other countries. One expert recently testified: “It now costs three times as much to provide essentially the same education as we provided in 1970.” The more we spend, the less we get.

    Cut $5 billion

    Cut $10 billion

    Cut $15 billion

    July 29, 2011 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  14. LouAz

    Repubs/TPers – Do as I say, not as I do.

    July 29, 2011 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  15. EveryPolitician IzzaTraitor

    Money is debt. The fake economy created by the illusions of fiat currency and fractional banking will guarantee the collapse and failure of America. If anybody is even remotely serious about solving this problem, they would demand that once again Congress be responsible for American money and have that money backed by something real, as opposed to a Federal Reserve Note backed only by imagination. Anything else is merely a delay of the inevitable. Go ahead and be distracted by simplistic shiny labels (GOP, Democrat, Left, Right, Tea) instead of the real issue of guaranteed perpetual debt and a falling to no value dollar as it has steadily done since 1913.

    July 29, 2011 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  16. wcnea567

    Joe Walsh must be another one of those family value guy. What did he do to the home he lost, did he sell it or gamble it away? If he sold the home, did he give part of the money to pay child support? Does he know how many homes he own?

    July 29, 2011 01:32 am at 1:32 am |
  17. ThoughtfulMonkey

    This comes as no surprise. The Tea Party movement is extremist in nature. Extremist movements tend to evolve from large groups of people who suffer from a high degree of personal frustration and self-loathing. A movement comes along that gives members of that group a script so they get to do the easy thing-hate and blame someone else-rather than do the hard thing –make an honest evaluation of their short-comings and try to make amends. These are lazy and pathetic people who will not change their views because it would require them to get honest with themselves. Trying to get a Tea Party member to come to his senses is like trying to get a drunk to stop drinking – they have to hit bottom and decide it's time to change.

    July 29, 2011 01:36 am at 1:36 am |
  18. Subbu

    Way to go Tea parters- I am a democrat , fully supporting the tea party position.

    Cut defense spending, raise taxes ,reform entitlements – everything needs to be in play if this country has to have a future.

    July 29, 2011 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  19. Bob

    Neither are talking about going into default. Definitely reaching for a story to bash Republicans. With the money that these guys make, this debt is reasonable and they aren't asking anybody else to sacrifice and pay their bills.

    July 29, 2011 01:45 am at 1:45 am |
  20. kat

    Remember... United we Stand, Divided we fall. Help get us through the tough times and in 2012 make a real difference. We need to make sure we have Republicans in charge.

    July 29, 2011 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  21. Just Go Away

    Well, just wow, the do as I say crowd needs to be voted out of office. They and the media are a big part of what's wrong with our country. The media digs into the background of democrats but barely give republicans a passing glance.

    July 29, 2011 02:13 am at 2:13 am |
  22. chris

    Again we have these right wingers who can't even handle their own personal finances who have the gall to lecture others and think they should be able to to unilaterly dictate policy for the entire country.

    July 29, 2011 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  23. Tom

    Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

    It Is Okay If You Are A Tea Partier.

    Tea Party = destruction of America.

    July 29, 2011 02:47 am at 2:47 am |
  24. JenniferUCD

    He doth protest too much, methinks.

    July 29, 2011 02:51 am at 2:51 am |
  25. ahetch

    Of course they have credit card debt. That's why they wanted to become congressmen so we could pay off their debt.

    July 29, 2011 03:12 am at 3:12 am |
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