House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer savaged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross after he said that he did not understand why federal workers affected by the government shutdown, many of whom have gone more than a month without pay, might need help from homeless shelters and food banks.
“Well I know they are, and I don't understand why,” Ross told CNBC when asked about reports that some furloughed workers are relying on charity to get through the shutdown. “Banks and credit unions should be making credit available to them. Now true, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest, but the idea that it's paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea.”
"Unreal," wrote Schumer (D-NY) in response to footage of Ross's remarks.
Wilbur Ross is @realDonaldTrump’s Secretary of Commerce. Wilbur Ross is a billionaire. And this is billionaire Wi… https://t.co/R4jjEfHdwK— Chuck Schumer (@Chuck Schumer) 1548342995.0
Ross further rejected the suggestion that the government shutdown will have a long term effect on the national economy.
“I think that is a great deal of hyperbole,” Ross said. “We’ve had shutdowns, albeit for not such a long period as we've been thus far, but put in the perspective: You're talking about 800,000 workers. And while I feel sorry for the individuals that have hardship cases, 800,000 workers if they never got their pay — which is 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.”
Ross's statements were also rebuked by Pelosi (D-CA), who characterized them as a "'let them eat cake' kind of attitude," a reference to a phrase commonly attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette (though there is no record of her actually having said it) as a reflection of her disregard for the plight of starving peasants.
Nancy Pelosi responds to Wilbur Ross: "Is this the 'let them eat cake' kind of attitude, or 'call your father for m… https://t.co/hKo3nmmGDm— Kyle Griffin (@Kyle Griffin) 1548346815.0
Others also criticized Ross for his failure to comprehend the financial struggles of those affected by the shutdown, which is now in its 34th day and is the longest shutdown in American history.
WILBUR ROSS says the 800k workers missing checks is "a third of a percent on our GDP. So it's not like it's a gigan… https://t.co/ntGIh9Stwz— Holly Figueroa O'Reilly (@Holly Figueroa O'Reilly) 1548340320.0
Hey Wilbur Ross: Let me explain this to you: 1. @realDonaldTrump shut down the government; 2. That means many fede… https://t.co/us1bN2lkDL— Ted Lieu (@Ted Lieu) 1548340217.0
This from the guy who, according to Forbes, used to lie to them about his wealth for the Forbes 400 and steal packe… https://t.co/FDNTjczFvm— Richard Stengel (@Richard Stengel) 1548343614.0
As if the pain of the shutdown could not be enough of a strain on many families' finances, yesterday the government warned furloughed workers that they must pay their dental and vision premiums beginning this week or they could lose their coverage.
Though workers are not at risk of losing their health insurance benefits, their accumulated premiums will be deducted from their pay once their agency reopens. They were told, however, that they will be billed directly for premiums for dental and vision coverage, which are not covered.
Some of those hardest hit by the shutdown, for example, are Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers, who are among the federal government's lowest paid workers. The median salary for a TSA employee is less than $41,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Federal workers are preparing to miss a second paycheck tomorrow––highlighting how so many people are just one or two paychecks away from financial ruin.
Ross has come under fire for callous statements about the national economy before. Last year, during another CNBC appearance, he defended President Donald Trump's proposed tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, saying they are “no big deal.” He also used a can of Campbell’s Soup to defend what he insists will be their minimal impact.
“In a can of Campbell’s Soup, there are about 2.6 pennies worth of steel. So if that goes up by 25 percent, that’s about six-tenths of 1 cent on the price on a can of Campbell’s soup,” Ross argued. “I just bought this can today at a 7-Eleven … and it's priced at a $1.99. Who in the world is going to be too bothered?”
Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross On Steel Tariffs: Those using “scare tactics” are the same ones who sent jobs overseas… https://t.co/rnBzQLwjih— RNC Research (@RNC Research) 1520009228.0
In a statement provided to CNBC earlier that day about the tariffs, a Campbell spokesperson said the tariffs would indeed have an impact on the company’s costs.
“Any new broad-based tariffs on imported tin plate steel — an insufficient amount of which is produced in the U.S. — will result in higher prices on one of the safest and more affordable parts of the food supply,” the spokesperson said.
Ross’s appearance quickly became the subject of criticism. Many accused him of being “out of touch” with the average citizen and noting the irony of the nation’s Commerce Secretary failing to foresee that “inflation of costs across the board will be enormous.”
Ross's current remarks about the shutdown prompted Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman to share a chart which compared the amount of unpaid federal workers and unpaid federal contractors to the amount of people working in the steel industry.
Wilbur Ross, who has been leading us into a trade war on behalf of the steel industry, says that the number of work… https://t.co/gVpXnDFouH— Paul Krugman (@Paul Krugman) 1548342692.0
Neither Ross nor the White House has responded to requests for comment.