Culture of Debt? As Congress Scrambles to Avoid Government Default, Some U.S. Leaders Have Financial Difficulties Too


Last month, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich was reviled when it was learned that he and his wife, Callista, had reported up to $500,000 debt in a revolving credit account at lavish jeweler Tiffany and Co. in 2005 and 2006. After initially declining to talk about it, Gingrich eventually said he and his wife had since paid off the tab.

"I owe no personal debts. None," Gingrich said May 23. "If [President] Obama followed our pattern of fiscal responsibility, the United States would currently be running a surplus and buying back debt from the Chinese."

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who formally launched her presidential campaign earlier this week and is a co-sponsor the balanced budget amendment, has not yet filed her 2010 financial disclosure report but showed two liabilities with the United Bank of Wisconsin on her 2009 financial disclosure statement filed June 16, 2010. Bachmann reported debt between $100,001-$250,000 on a mortgage for her Lake Elmo, Minn., property and also reported taking out a $250,001-$500,000 business loan.

Another Republican presidential contender, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, widely viewed as the Godfather of the Tea Party, reported a personal loan with the First National Bank of Lake Jackson (Texas) between $250,001-$500,000 on his 2010 financial disclosure statement filed May 13.

Cantor, who pulled out the bipartisan debt limit negotiations led by the vice president last week, reported a liability with Bank of America valued between $250,001-$500,000 on a mortgage for a property in Arlington, Va., on his 2010 financial disclosure statement.

But all of the leading Republicans' debt combined pales in comparison to one of the House's richest Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

In her latest financial disclosure statement, filed May 16, Pelosi reported liabilities on six separate properties in the Golden State, totaling between $4.75 million-$21.5 million. She also reported an equity line of credit on a California property valued between $1 million-$5 million, two brokerage margin accounts valued between $1.5 million-$6 million and a personal term loan worth between $1 million-$5 million.

While the housing market's rapid decline is considered the chief impetus behind the financial crisis, not all investments in real estate are necessarily unwise. The financial disclosure statements are simply annual snapshots of financial history intended to demonstrate accountability and transparency.

The Ethics Committee requires members, officers and certain employees of the House of Representatives to file them annually.

Lawmakers report ranges on the disclosure statements, and they are not required to report revolving charge accounts (i.e., credit cards) unless the balance at the end of the previous calendar year exceeds $10,000. Members of Congress are also not required to report any mortgages on personal residences or personal loans secured by automobiles, household furniture or appliances, and debts owed to certain immediate relatives.

ABC News' Tom Shine contributed to this report

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