The U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC in an interview on Thursday (Jan. 24) that furloughed federal employees should take out loans to pay their bills while the government shutdown stretches into its second month.
Reuters, citing the CNBC interview, reported that the billionaire investor also said he isn’t sure why federal workers are having trouble getting by without what on Friday (Jan. 25) will be their second paycheck. Ross said it was “disappointing” that some of the furloughed workers aren’t coming to work, saying “there really is not a good excuse” for the federal employees to lack money. He suggested they turn to banks for help by taking out loans.
With the government shutdown in its 34th day, there are about 800,000 workers that are furloughed, impacting one-quarter of the federal government. Lots of the workers are relying on food banks, unemployment assistance and other support groups to bridge the gap while they wait for the government to reopen.
“The banks and the credit unions should be making credit available to them,” Ross said, noting that the government would give federal employees back pay. “There really is not a good excuse why there should be a liquidity crisis. 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.” Ross said he felt bad for the individuals, but that even if they never received payment, it would be less than 1 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.
Those comments received a rebuke from Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, who reportedly said during a news conference that she can’t understand why Ross would make that comment on the eve of hundreds of thousands of federal workers not receiving a second paycheck. “Is this the ‘Let them eat cake,’ kind of attitude, or ‘Call your father for money?’ or, ‘This is character building for you?’” Pelosi asked at a news conference.
Earlier in January, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Kevin Hassett called the furlough a “vacation” during an interview with PBS. This week, Hassett told Fox that it looks like federal employees will miss another paycheck, noting that one staff member is driving for Uber as the shutdown continues.
President Trump, who has vowed to stand firm until he gets the money for a border wall, signed a law that ensures federal workers receive back pay once the government reopens – but that doesn’t extend to contractors or others who rely on the business of the federal government and its workers.