Multimillionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross dismissed the plight of 800,000 unpaid federal workers on Thursday, noting that they will “eventually” get their due and that, in the meantime, they should be able to obtain government-backed loans.
Ross spoke to CNBC, one day before federal workers will miss their third consecutive paycheck due to the government shutdown. Ross’ boss, President Donald Trump, has refused to sign legislation to fund the government unless it contains billions for his Mexico border wall. The 34-day shutdown is the longest in U.S. history.
“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—if they never got it, you’re talking about a third of a percent in our GDP, which is not a gigantic number overall,” Ross told CNBC.
Meanwhile, Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Bureau announced it will not publish economic data during the shutdown, The Wall Street Journal reports. Key figures on inflation, personal income, spending, gross domestic product, and housing sales are closely watched by policymakers and investors for their economic effect on the world at large.
Despite this, Ross said he finds it “kind of disappointing that air traffic controllers are calling in sick in pretty large numbers.”
But CNBC reporter Rebecca Quick countered: “Many of them can’t afford to support their families.”
Ross replied, “Remember this, they are eventually going to be paid. The president signed that into law.”
CNBC reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin told Ross that many workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and asked if the shutdown over Trump’s refusal to reopen the government without funding for a border wall was worth more than “the effect that it’s having on the families of these federal workers?”
“First of all,” Ross responded, “the banks and credit union should be making credit available to them. These are basically government guaranteed loans. The government has committed that these folks will get their backpay once this whole thing gets settled down.… 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. There’s no reason why some institution wouldn’t be willing to lend.”
Sorkin retorted: “So it should be put on the private sector? The private sector needs to step up where the public sector can’t?”
Ross replied: “There have been ads run by a number of the public-sector credit unions, which are member organizations of the people who work in the departments. Those have announced very, very low interest-rate loans to bridge people over the gap. That’s the kind of cooperation between the financial community and employee that really is warranted.”
But as Sorkin pointed out, there are federal workers going to homeless shelters because they have no other means of feeding themselves.
“I know they are,” said Ross, “and I don’t really quite understand why, because as I mentioned before, the obligations they would take in borrowing from a bank or credit union are in effect federally guaranteed.”