Millionaire congressman: ‘I ain’t wealthy’

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.