It's no secret the national debt is a problem, or that fiscal conservatives in Washington are reluctant to raise the debt ceiling without also passing measures to reduce spending. It turns out some of those very same lawmakers have mountains of debt - in some cases tens of millions of dollars - of their own.
An analysis of personal finances in Congress conducted by OpenSecrets.org found that lawmakers owed as much as $568.3 million in student loan debt, car and boat loans, credit-card balances and other types of borrowing in 2011. At least two members of Congress were carrying credit-card balances of more than $100,000.
But make no mistake: The debt carried by the wealthiest members of Congress is different than the debt carried by the average American household. In most cases lawmakers borrow because they can, not because they need to make this month's rent. They often are able to take advantage of low interest rates not available to average Americans.
"Certainly in my experience, we find wealthy people borrow because it's advantageous to do so," Allen Laufer, director of financial planning at Silvercrest Asset Management, told OpenSecrets.org, a project of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. "It's a different kind of borrowing - one that either enhances returns (on investments) or it is maybe for estate or gift tax planning."
The analysis of personal financial disclosures found that Republican U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of California, one the wealthiest members of Congress, held the most debt. He owed at least $100 million on two personal loans in 2011, according to OpenSecrets.org. Issa, who is reportedly worth more than $480 million, has not commented on the analysis.
Among the other noteworthy items in the OpenSecrets.org analysis:
- U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, reported credit card balances of between $150,001 and $350,000.
- U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican from Florida, owed between $15,000 and $50,000 on a personal vehicle, an RV.
- Republican U.S. Reps. Steve Southerland of Florida, an avid fisherman, and Randy Forbes of Virginia were paying off boat loans. Southerland reported owing between $100,000 and $250,000 on a 32-foot Century boat.
- Republican U.S. Rep. Vernon Buchanan of Florida reported owing more than $16.6 million. His debt includes between $5 million and $25 million on Lear Jet, and another $1 million to $5 million apiece to buy two other private planes.
[Photo: U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of California/U.S. Congress]