WASHINGTON -- While Congress is fixated on America's national debt, Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) on Tuesday tried to turn its attention toward credit card debt, a liability he argued has been hampering the country's economic recovery. To make his point, he cut up several credit cards on the House floor to urge Americans to free themselves from plastic.
"We will not easily get out of this recession as long as Americans are underwater on their mortgages, defaulting on student loans, maxing out on their credit cards," Hansen said on Tuesday.
"If we want to create jobs -- jobs that will truly be sustainable and help provide families with real financial security, this Congress must realize that when the American people are so in debt, so is this country."
Hansen's fever pitch came toward the end of his floor time, when the congressman reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut up five credit cards.
"You want this government to get out of debt? Then you get out of debt personally," said Hansen. "Stop the spending! Stop the borrowing! Stop overconsumption -- buying things you don't need with money you don't have, that's robbing you and your family of a future. It's robbing this country out of jobs."
"So I'm going to ask every American right now, get out your credit cards, cut them up, free yourselves -- free yourselves! Don't count on this Congress to help you. This Congress already voted to end Medicare. They're flirting with disaster on this debt right now."
The display was certainly symbolic, but it didn't actually affect the congressman's finances. Hansen spokesperson Kim Bowman said the credit cards had all belonged to other people and had already been canceled. The congressman, in fact, has already sworn off plastic.
"After he won the August primary he decided to be debt free and refuses to use credit -- It is important for him to be in integrity in Congress. No credit. No debt," she said.
The U.S. national debt is currently $14.5 trillion. U.S. consumer credit is at about $2.4 trillion for short- and intermediate-term borrowing, with $796 billion in credit card debt alone, according to the Federal Reserve.
Hansen also announced that he will be putting forth a resolution stating that as Congress negotiates raising the debt limit, it also must "work to make sure that Americans don't default on their debt."