Displaying what one critic described as "malignant indifference" to the suffering the ongoing government shutdown has caused for hundreds of thousands of federal workers, President Donald Trump's billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday said he doesn't "understand" why public employees who haven't been paid in over a month are resorting to food banks and homeless shelters to survive.
"Billionaires like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump may not get it, but it's not complicated. Federal employees go to food banks because they have to feed their kids, and they can't do that without a paycheck."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"I don't really quite understand why because... the obligations that they would undertake, say, of borrowing from a bank or a credit union are, in effect, federally guaranteed," Ross told CNBC. "So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out is no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it."
While conceding that workers "might have to pay a little bit of interest," Ross declared that "there is really not a good excuse" for workers to run out of money.
Asked about reports that federal workers are going to homeless shelters to get food amid the shutdown, Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross says he doesn't "quite understand why" because their backpay is "in effect, federally guaranteed" and they should "be able to get a loan against it" pic.twitter.com/xHVJ94UO8p
— CNBC (@CNBC) January 24, 2019
Ross—who once attempted to use cans of Coca-Cola, Campbell's soup, and Budweiser as props to explain the effect of Trump's import tariffs on American consumers—went on to downplay the effects of the shutdown on the overall economy, which the Trump administration recently admitted have been worse than expected.
Even if the 800,000 federal workers who are about to miss their second paycheck on Friday "never got their pay," Ross said, "you're talking about a third of a percent on GDP so it's not like it's a gigantic number overall."
Ross' comments sparked immediate outrage, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) declaring: "Billionaires like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump may not get it, but it's not complicated. Federal employees go to food banks because they have to feed their kids, and they can't do that without a paycheck. Mr. President. End the shutdown you created."
To the wealthy, this shutdown is just a blip on their radar but to thousands of federal workers, their families, and many more who depend on our government this is a NATIONAL CRISIS. #EndTheShutdownhttps://t.co/tO5p3f33Df
— Tax March (@taxmarch) January 24, 2019
Even CNBC's Jim Cramer, who said he likes Ross "very much," couldn't hold back his disgust over the Commerce Secretary's remarks.
"I thought that was painful. Painful," Cramer said. "How could you be that out of touch with... people who live paycheck to paycheck? How could you be that out of touch?"