In what critics are calling the second “let them eat cake” moment from the Trump administration this week, Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce professed his lack of understanding of the plight of furloughed federal employees on CNBC’s Squawk Box this morning.
He was asked first asked if everything the administration is fighting for worth the effect the shutdown is having on the families of federal workers who will be missing their second paycheck tomorrow.
Ross replied, “Well, first of all, the banks and the credit unions should be making credit available to them. When you think about it, these are basically government guaranteed loans. Because the government has committed, these folks will get their back pay once this whole thing gets settled down. So there really is not a good excuse why there really should be a liquidity crisis. Now, true, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest but the idea that it is paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea.
He went on to say, “There is no reason why some banks wouldn’t be willing to give loans and pointed to ads where government and public sector credit unions are offering very very low interest rates loans to bridge people over the gap.”
Ross was then asked if he agreed that the shutdown was “terribly damaging for the brand of our country”.
“I think that is a great deal of hyperbole. Uh, we’ve had shutdowns before, albeit for not such a long period as we’ve been thus far. But put it into perspective, you’re talking about 800,000 people. And, while I feel sorry for the individuals that have hardship cases, 800,000 workers, if they never got their pay, and that’s not the case, they will eventually get it. But if they never got it, you’re talking about a third of a percent on our GDP. So it’s not like it is a gigantic number overall,” he explained.
When the interviewer pointed out that there are reports of furloughed employees going to homeless shelters for food, Ross replied, “Well, I know they are and I don’t really quite understand why. Because as I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake, say of borrowing from a bank or a credit union, are in effect, federally guaranteed. So the thirty days of pay some people will be out, there would be no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan against it.”
The Democratic leadership quickly weighed in on Ross’s comments.
Twitter had a few things to say about the Secretary of Commerce’s out of touch comments, as well.
Why It Matters
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, optics matter. Even in an administration headed by an “unconventional” president like Donald Trump.
Policies, especially the controversial ones, adopted by our government ultimately are run, by design, through the court of public opinion. Donald Trump said, “I am proud to shut down the government” on December 12, 2018. Now a majority of the country believes the blame for the shutdown falls squarely on the shoulders of President Trump, the spin of the GOP saying the Democrats are responsible notwithstanding.
With poor approval ratings even before the shutdown, President Trump and the GOP now are being held accountable for the plight of hundreds of thousands of Americans who are facing financial difficulty because they are about to miss their second paycheck. Most of America knows what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and feels “there but for the grace of God go I” when reading about the affects of the shutdown on our fellow citizens.
But not the people representing the administration on TV.
Kevin Hassett said that federal workers are better off with the shutdown than without: they will not have to use vacation days for their time off and still get paid for it. Earlier this week, Lara Trump, one of the wealthier women in the country, promised that the “little bit of pain” the unpaid employees are feeling “is for the future of our country”.
And now the Commerce Secretary says these people should get a loan for food, which they will have to pay interest on, instead of going to food banks.
Optics matter. And every time an administration official, who has no idea what it is like to shop for groceries much less pay for them, says something as stupid as the Trump surrogates have said over the course of the shutdown, the Democrats will bludgeon them with those comments. As well they should.
Politics is a blood sport. The people who elected Donald Trump wanted a non-politician. And now they are going to have to live with the results of getting what they wanted.