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

As Congress scrambles to avoid default, some U.S. leaders in fiscal trouble too.

ByABC News
June 29, 2011, 4:18 PM

June 30, 2011 -- The national debt is currently approaching $14.3 trillion, or almost $130,000 per U.S. taxpayer, and while Congress scrambles to prevent the government from defaulting on its debt obligations, some of the country's top leaders are having difficulty balancing their own finances.

Two days after Republicans rode a tidal wave of anti-spending, anti-debt sentiment to the House majority, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told ABC News' Diane Sawyer that he did not have any personal debt. No outstanding mortgage, no maxed-out credit cards, no car loans. Nothing.

"Germans. You know, we [Boehners] -- we're savers, we're not spenders," Boehner explained to Sawyer Nov. 4. "Debt is not something that has ever made me comfortable, and this national debt makes me very uncomfortable."

Boehner's financial disclosure statement even backs him up: zero liabilities.

Some fiscal hawks in Washington say that lawmakers should follow the everyday American's lead and pass a budget based on what the government makes in revenue.

"Families do it every day. A husband earns $40,000. A wife earns $40,000. Their total family income is $80,000. That's their budget. That's what they can afford to spend. American families figure out how to live within their means," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Tuesday on the Senate floor. "The federal government should be no different. A budget is a number. We should first pick one number, and then a set of numbers, that won't let America go bankrupt."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that at the end of July -- mere days before the Treasury Department's Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling -- the House would consider a balanced budget amendment, which would amend the Constitution to require that total spending for any fiscal year not exceed total receipts.

"We are about trying to save the taxpayers money and to change the culture here in Washington," Cantor, told reporters May 11. "We believe that what we're about reflects a commonsense nature of the American people. They understand that we can't keep spending money we don't have."

But consumer credit reporting agency Equifax reports that although total consumer debt has declined since 2008, many Americans are still spending money they don't have. The agency says that 54 million American households still owe more than $800 billion in debt to credit card companies alone, irrespective of other debts such as mortgages, car loans or student loans.

And they're not alone.

While the speaker and his Republican colleagues work to cut spending and reverse Washington's culture of debt, Boehner's squeaky-clean debt record stands apart from some of the country's most fiscally conservative lawmakers (and some Democrats), who are deep in the hole themselves with personal debt valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Even some of the presidential candidates seeking the Republican nomination in 2012 have drawn criticism for spending money they do not have, racking up personal debt in the process.