Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), the 23rd richest member of Congress who owns millions of dollars in farm and ranch land, told an audience member at a town hall in Missoula yesterday that he and his wife “are struggling like everyone else” and that he’s “land rich and cash poor.”
“I’m a small businessman. My wife is a small businessman. You know she hasn’t taken a salary in ten years? She has not, as a result of the business, because we are struggling like everyone else… with the economy,” Rehberg said.
“What’s your net worth?” an audience member interjected.
“I am land rich and cash poor; like ranchers, and farmers and small businesses throughout Montana,” Rehberg said. “I have the same struggle. I have no employees. And we have the same struggle because we have the ability to borrow the money but the problem is, in our particular case, if you don’t have the ability to pay back the loan, then you don’t — then what’s the reason to go to the bank and borrow the money?”
It’s certainly possible Rehberg finds himself in cash crunch. But his own most recent financial disclosure form, which covers 2009, shows Rehberg with a self-reported net worth of between $6,598,014 and $56,244,998, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That made Rehberg the 23rd richest member of Congress (by another count he was 25th richest member of Congress and the 14th richest member of the House). Based on their analysis, Roll Call pegged him as the 23rd richest member of Congress.
A closer look at his disclosure form from calendar year 2009 suggests Rehberg has millions of dollars of equity in the agricultural properties he owns. His farm and ranch land was valued at between $11.5 million and $56.75 million, and his total assets were worth somewhere between $12.2 and $57.5 million.
Rehberg also reported three liabilities on those properties totaling between $1,300,003 and $5,600,000 for development, construction and agricultural loans, which would be set off against the value of the land. (Rehberg also reported only making between $35,610 and $118,800 on the assets in 2009.)
Rehberg’s office would not elaborate on those numbers or on Rehberg’s latest comments when contacted by TPM. But his office did issue a statement hailing his agricultural roots and saying D.C. insiders just don’t understand.
“Denny is a 5th generation Montana rancher and knows better than anyone how difficult it is to make ends meet in agriculture,” spokesman Jed Link said in a statement to TPM. “While Beltway insiders may not understand the meaning of being land rich and cash poor, folks who make their living off the land sure do.”
The video was posted by the Montana Democratic Party. The clip begins after a member of the audience asked why Rehberg wasn’t looking at raising taxes on the rich. As the Missoulian reported:
Missoula attorney Richard Buley asked why Rehberg was not looking at taxes on the rich similar to what they paid under President Ronald Reagan. Rehberg replied the nation’s economy had been rocked by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, and that tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 were necessary to keep it afloat.
“I’m glad we had the tax relief that created the opportunity that helped us pay for and stabilize the economy during that tough time,” Rehberg said, according to the newspaper. Rehberg said that the federal government should take the blame in the collapse of the housing bubble, according to the newspaper.
“Is it the banker’s fault, the homebuilder’s fault, the Realtor’s fault, the purchaser’s fault?” Rehberg asked. “We have a tendency to ignore the government’s action that helped create the meltdown in the financial market (by promoting the idea that) everybody deserved an opportunity to be in a house, even if you can’t afford it. You can’t blame the banker, the homebuilder and the Realtor, when the government is encouraging the action that created the meltdown that occurred.”
Democrats pounced on Rehberg’s comments. Ted Dick, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said in a statement that Rehberg ‘s “biggest struggle is understanding the reality that regular Montanans face every day.”