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May 29, 2011 9:25 AM Millionaire congressman: ‘I ain’t wealthy’

By Steve Benen

About a month ago, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) of Montana, now running for the Senate, assured his constituents he can relate to their economic difficulties. “[W]e are struggling like everyone else … with the economy,” he said.

It was an odd thing for Rehberg to say: he Republican congressman enjoys a net worth in upwards of $56 million. Out of 535 members of Congress, Rehberg is richer than more than 95% of his Capitol Hill colleagues. He’s not “struggling,” and he’s not like “everyone else.”

This week, Rep. Paul Gosar (R) of Arizona went down a very similar road.

“In the last election I was labeled a millionaire. Seriously. I ain’t wealthy. I built my own house, I wouldn’t do it again. I own my building, I have a dental practice. I live just like the rest of you folks. It’s all on paper, it’s not in cash.”

In fairness, Gosar isn’t quite in Rehberg’s league when it comes to wealth, but the comment he made to his constituents was still foolish.

As Lee Fang explained, Gosar “owns substantial real estate, including a building worth up to $1 million, a dental practice worth up to $500,000, an antique store worth up to $500,000, and other assets.” He also makes $174,000 a year as a member of Congress.

Gosar “ain’t wealthy”? I’m afraid he is.

His defense, such as it is, focuses on the notion that his wealth is “on paper.” That’s very likely true. Gosar is a millionaire, but it doesn’t mean he has a seven-figure checking account.

But as Matt Yglesias reminded me a few weeks ago, “If you have $2 million in cash in the bank, that makes you rich because with $2 million you can buy $2 million worth of goods and services…. And by the exact same token, if you own $2 million worth of land, that makes you rich because you can exchange it for $2 million in cash with which you can buy $2 million worth of goods and services…. Being ‘house rich and cash poor’ is a way of being, well, rich since unlike an actual poor person you are the owner of a valuable asset that you can exchange for money. That’s what being rich is.”

I don’t begrudge wealthy Republican lawmakers from having a lot of wealth; I just wish they’d stop pretending, for crass political purposes, that they don’t have a lot of wealth.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • hell's littlest angel on May 29, 2011 9:35 AM:

    I would guess that for a long, long time the rich have been hiring sophists (who else could do it?) to come up with arguments that being rich isn't all that great. You know, "money can't buy happiness" -- as if poverty could.

  • matt w on May 29, 2011 9:38 AM:

    Why not begrudge them from having a lot of wealth? If ever there was an argument that we need more income inequality, it's these rich Republicans who go into government to try to ensure that they and their class buddies get even richer, at the expense of the rest of us.

  • matt w on May 29, 2011 9:40 AM:

    Gah. We need less income inequality.

  • hell's littlest angel on May 29, 2011 9:41 AM:

    Steve, it's obvious from your work that you really like your job. But don't you ever take a day off?

  • DAY on May 29, 2011 9:42 AM:

    What is the Fair Market Price for body parts?
    'cause I got a liver, kidneys, eyes, heart, as well as other marketable pieces.

    I bet I'm RICH!

    pression serojuse: batting .950, so far.

  • c u n d gulag on May 29, 2011 9:43 AM:

    To paraphrase the, unfortunaely not late, Phil Gramm:

    Ah hee-ave moh money (land) than Ah nee-ad, bhuuuut not azmuch money (land) az-Ah wawon.

    Congressman Rehberg, you dumbass, smug, rich fucking prick - I can't even afford the PAPER to counterfeit the money I need, let alone the money I want.

  • Anonymous on May 29, 2011 9:50 AM:

    What's obvious is that these people have no idea what "not wealthy" MEANS. Should send 'em on a fact-finding mission to live in squalor for a while, a couple of YEARS living among the virtually hopeless, and see if their sense of vocabulary improves after that.

  • Jeff In Ohio on May 29, 2011 9:52 AM:

    I ain't middle-class, that's just on paper. The $0 I have in the bank at the end of every month is proof I'm destitute.

  • berttheclock on May 29, 2011 9:52 AM:

    Steve, I believe you forgot to list the Harley owned by Dr Paul "Orin Scrivello" Gosar. During the election debates, after only one debate, he refused to attend any of the remaining scheduled debates, due to his Harley being in the shop (perhaps). Just another simple simple run of the mill TPer.

  • berttheclock on May 29, 2011 9:55 AM:

    Shrub was all hat and no cattle. So, Rehberg says he's all cattle and no hat?

  • DelCapslock on May 29, 2011 10:02 AM:

    I think there is a vocabulary problem here. People tend to equate "wealth" with an opulent lifestyle, so I think Republicans are using a little slight of hand to say "look, I don't own a yacht or a private jet, so I'm not wealthy". The goal is to distract from real economic class differences, so that the poor will accept their lot in life as the natural economic order.

  • Mudge on May 29, 2011 10:24 AM:

    Remember, Republicans want your last nickel. They do not feel fulfilled until this year is much better financially than last year. And, as long as someone is wealthier than they are, they do not consider themselves wealthy. Neither of these guys has yet cashed his "Get into Lobbying Free" card, so they view their current circumstances as penurious.

  • Mnemosyne on May 29, 2011 10:48 AM:

    I don't know how Republicans have managed to convince so many voters that $250,000 a year is barely scraping by but a union thug earning $50,000 a year means that he's RICH RICH RICH and needs to have his salary cut, but somehow they've done it.

  • berttheclock on May 29, 2011 11:33 AM:

    "$50,000 a year means he's RICH"

    Hmmm - Kevin Drum, when he was running PA, thought 50 thou plus was too high for transit workers in NYC. This can cut across party lines, especially, when one does not consider the cost of living in various regions.

  • Nancy Irving on May 29, 2011 11:33 AM:

    I guess GOPers have mixed feelings about the Ayn Rand/prosperity gospel claim that net worth = human worth. Part of them believes it, but the other part wants to be a "common man."

  • bill on May 29, 2011 11:40 AM:

    So wait a minute. Is he telling us that his million-dollar property, his dental practice, his antique store and all the rest are just sitting there, inert, and not bringing in significant wads of cash every month? Why would he invest in these things if they were only going to be valuable on paper? My guess is the only property he owns that doesn't make money for him is his house, and if he owns more than one of those he probably rents out the ones he doesn't actually live in himself.

    I feel the distinct flutter of smoke being blown up my ass.

  • jrosen on May 29, 2011 11:48 AM:

    The need to have ever more (even if it's on paper) is a serious disease, which afflicts not only the one who has it, but millions of others. if you have $10m what is the utility of getting another 100,000 (cf. Martha Stewart insider trading... $45000 = 6 months in the can)? It can't be because you NEED the extra money.

    I had a short conversation with a man (in a line getting a DMV licence renewed in Jersey) who used to work for one of the richest men in the world. He confirmed what I have long suspected: that raking in (I won't say "earning") bigger and bigger bucks is a game and the bucks are a way of keeping score...which is why there is "conspicuous consumption" as Veblen wrote long ago --- he was more of an anthropologist than an economist IMO.

    What good is having 9 figures in holdings if you can't show it off? So if you go bankrupt a few times (Trump and his erections) who cares?

    I have tried a few times to play the "if I had a million" head game and I always run short after about 300,000 (in the pure version you must spend only on yourself...no charity, no relatives, no investing; you have to SPEND it!). Personally the thing I would like most is something that I could not buy with $100m: to play the piano better (I am by trade, calling, and training a musician). I could hire the best teachers in the world (I've already had some) but I can't pay someone to practice for me. So I consider myself incredibly lucky...I have enough money (for now) to meet my real needs and have a few comforts, and I have work to do that really means something to me. And most of all...I DON'T HAVE TO HURT ANYONE ELSE to keep score.

    Greed for wealth and power is a pernicious disease: what can you do with either but try to get more of the same? And it always ends badly, if not for you, then for many, many other people. Maybe it helps to be a sociopath?

  • DK on May 29, 2011 12:04 PM:

    Maybe he can sell his stuff and buy a needle big enough for a camel to pass through the eye.

  • Roddy McCorley on May 29, 2011 1:03 PM:

    I just wish theyíd stop pretending, for crass political purposes, that they donít have a lot of wealth.

    Or at least consider the possibility that if you can't get by in this country on a couple of million dollars, then people making 40K a year must be really screwed.

  • KurtRex1453 on May 29, 2011 5:21 PM:

    The average family income in America is $50,000 a year. It would take 40 years to make $2 million. And that's b4 taxes. Fuck them.

  • Hmmmmm on May 29, 2011 8:42 PM:

    Someone needs to ask these a-holes:
    1) In the last six months, did you have to decide between buying your prescriptions and buying groceries?
    2) Did the price of gas prevent you from being able to go places you needed to go or affected your monthly budget?
    3) Ever have to forgo a visit to the doctor or dentist because you can't afford it? (Question posed to make them think, of course they are covered.)

    Questions will all be answered with "no", whereupon they should be reminded that they are doing just fine, thank you, unlike too many of their constituents. And then they should be tarred and feathered and made to switch places with the poorest of their constituents for a few months until it sinks in.


  • toowearyforoutrage on May 29, 2011 8:44 PM:

    My mother is a millionaire.
    It was HARD to get her to admit that she was rich.

    Jesus said it was hard to travel some places when you're wealthy.
    Got bad news folks. If you deny being rich, that doesn't make the needle bigger. In fact, denial may be one of the reasons for the quote to have been made.

  • dsimon on May 29, 2011 9:36 PM:

    Gosar makes $174,000 as a member of Congress. Median household income is about $50,000. Yes, I know there are expenses that come with being a member of Congress, such as lodging in DC. But as of 2009, that salary would have put him almost in the top 5% of earners, which had a lower end cutoff at $180,000. http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=330

    Whether that makes Gosar "wealthy" I leave to the reader.

  • Richard H. Serlin on May 30, 2011 11:31 AM:

    "Itís all on paper, itís not in cash"

    Paper wealth can almost always be turned into cash pretty quickly.

    Stocks on major exchanges can be turned into cash in a matter of days.

    Most real estate can be sold in months, maybe a year or two, and owning your home free and clear may seem like paper wealth, but it means you don't have to pay a mortgage.

    Bonds can be sold in days, and some send you interest payments regularly.

    Even a 401K may be "paper wealth", but a big one means you can spend more now and save less because your future cash is already largely or completely assured.

    Paper wealth is almost always real wealth, the only exceptions are where you're not allowed to sell and the price might plummet, like with an IPO, or company options. Even there, there's a chance, often big, that it will turn into real wealth.

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