No bailout for subprime mortgage victims, said Martha McSally. Try personal responsibility instead.

In a 2012 debate, she said the government should not help underwater homeowners because personal responsibility is better.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in 2015
Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in 2015. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Republican Rep. Martha McSally, who is currently seeking the GOP nomination for Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R) open Senate seat, does not have much sympathy for victims of predatory lenders. In a 2012 candidate forum, she opposed federal government efforts to help homeowners with underwater mortgages, suggesting that instead Americans should rely on “personal responsibility.”

The comments came at a Greater Catalina Council Forum in April 2012. McSally was unsuccessfully seeking her party’s nomination for a special election to replace Rep. Gabby Giffords (D), who had been shot in the head months earlier in the Tucson mass shooting.

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Asked about the federal government’s response to the housing 2008 crisis and how to help those stuck with mortgages to be able to refinance, McSally indicated that she did not think the government should do anything but get out of the way and let the free market work its will.

“The American dream is freedom, opportunity, and personal responsibility. We’ve gotta go back to those foundations when we’re dealing with all of these challenges. We are in a tough situation. I mean, I bought land in Elgin in 2006. Oh, it had been climbing, climbing, climbing and, guess what, it was right before it all fell. I’m upside down on that as well,” she explained, referencing 18 acres she owns in the Elgin Estates lots near Tucson, valued at between $100,001 and $250,000. A ThinkProgress review of McSally’s financial disclosures since 2012 found no mortgage on that property and a spokesperson confirmed in an email that no such mortgage exists. 

After acknowledging that she understood that it is frustrating to see the government bail out big business but not “the little guy,” she explained that, as conservative, she opposed federal aid for homeowners.

“That’s not the solution. We cannot have a federal government trying to fix this problem, because it’s only gonna further us into more debt, it’s more taxpayers’ money. And so that’s not the way to fix it. So the way to fix it is to get the economy growing again, by focusing on freedom, opportunity, and personal responsibility.”

She then suggested that people who borrowed too much money only had themselves to blame.

“Even though we had these scenarios of the loans being offered that were like much more than people could afford, it kinda goes back to individual responsibility, too. I mean, I know what I can afford and can’t afford.” She observed that when you buy a house, it’s scary because there is risk involved and you have to “make calculated assessment” about whether you can afford it. “These are serious decisions that we need to be responsible for.” 

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Instead, McSally proposed, we should “grow the economy by get [sic] the federal government out of the way, get our debt under control, and get the economy going by entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, and just the freedom of the free market economy,” which she said would make housing values go up. 

The economic meltdown in late 2008 was caused, in large part, predatory lenders frequently offered subprime mortgages often under misleading terms, with an adjustable rate that was not understood (or even agreed to) by the borrowers.

A few months before McSally’s comments, a Tucson Sentinel story noted that nearly half of all Arizona mortgages were “underwater” — meaning the homeowner owed more to the bank than the property was even worth. According to a 2015 Arizona PBS report, 18 percent of Phoenix homeowners had underwater mortgages — making it one of the major cities with the highest rates in the country.

McSally was elected to the U.S. House in 2014 and re-elected in 2016 and has been part of the GOP majority over her entire tenure. Still, according to her most recent personal financial disclosure filings, McSally’s Elgin Estates holdings remain valued at between $100,001 and $250,000.