With 800,000 federal workers about to miss their second paycheck due to the ongoing government shutdown, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross went on CNBC Thursday morning and offered them completely out-of-touch advice.
Asked to respond to reports that federal workers are going to food banks to get food, Ross said, “I don’t really quite understand why.” He then suggested they should just go further into debt to make ends meet.
“The 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan against it,” Ross added.
While Ross, who was worth $2.9 billion in 2016, might have a hard time understanding the economic plight of working Americans, the reality is that 40 percent of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense and 25 percent have no retirement savings whatsoever.
Ross’s comments came the morning after federal workers gathered at the Hart Senate Office Building to protest the shutdown, chanting, “No more food banks. We need paychecks.”
Earlier during the CNBC interview, Ross expressed bewilderment at the fact that air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration agents who are being forced to work without pay are calling in sick at ever-increasing rates.
“It’s kinda disappointing that air traffic controllers are calling in sick in pretty large numbers,” he said, prompting a host to jump in and point out to him, “Many of them can’t afford to support their families, though.”
“Well, remember this, they are eventually going to be paid,” Ross replied.
Ross also downplayed the impact that 800,000 workers missing paychecks is having on the broader economy, arguing that those jobs amount to “a third of a percent on our GDP. So it’s not like it’s a gigantic number.”
During a news conference later Thursday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) characterized Ross’s comments as reflecting a “let them eat cake” or “call your father for money” attitude.
.@SpeakerPelosi addresses Ross's comments: "They have Wilbur Ross saying he doesn't understand why they have to [go to food pantries]. Is this the 'let them eat cake' kind of attitude? Or call your father for money?" pic.twitter.com/JZ9wlaytsa— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 24, 2019
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) denounced Ross’s comments from the Senate floor.
Schumer responds to Wilbur Ross: "Those comments are appalling and reveal the administration's callous indifference towards the federal workers it is treating as pawns ... Secretary Ross, they just can't call their stock broker and ask them to sell some of their shares." Via ABC pic.twitter.com/hWNhI77rgL— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 24, 2019
Ross’s comments come days after Lara Trump, daughter-in-law to President Donald Trump and one of his campaign advisers, downplayed the plight of federal workers who are missing paychecks as “a little bit of pain.”
Ross is hopelessly out of touch
Thursday morning was far from the first time Ross revealed himself to be out of touch with working Americans while being interviewed on cable news.
During an interview on Fox Business last August, Ross swatted down the suggestion that tens of billions of dollars of tariffs placed on Chinese goods by the Trump administration would hurt the American economy because, as he claimed, “$50 billion on an $18 trillion economy is three-tenths of 1 percent. It’s not something that’s going to be cataclysmic.”
The next month, Ross left CNBC hosts speechless when he argued that Americans families wouldn’t notice price increases due to tariffs because they would be spread across so many products.
“If you have a 10 percent tariff on another $200 billion, that’s $20 billion a year. That’s a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of 1 percent total inflation in the US,” Ross said. “Because it’s spread over thousands and thousands of products, nobody’s gonna actually notice it at the end of the day.”
Perhaps most memorably, last May, he waved around cans of soup and Coke on CNBC while making a case that price increases on relatively cheap products don’t matter.
“This is a can of Campbell Soup. In the can of Campbell Soup, there’s about 2.6 cents, 2.6 pennies’ worth of steel, so if that goes up by 25 percent, that’s about sixth-tenths of 1 cent on the price of Campbell Soup,” Ross said. “Well, I just bought this can today at a 7-Eleven down here, and the price was $1.99. So who in the world is going to be too bothered by sixth-tenths of a cent?”