Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce whose department is among the parts of the government that are shut down, really prefers to look at the big picture, not the particular details of his own agency’s employees who are not getting paid.
Asked on CNBC about the shutdown and all the federal workers who have lost their income, Ross, who is worth somewhere north of $700 million, decided to balance those individuals’ struggles to pay rent or buy food against something that is much bigger, and certainly looms much larger in his head -- the entire gross domestic product of the United States.
“Put it in perspective. You're talking about 800,000 workers," Ross said. "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."
"So it's not like it's a gigantic number overall," he added.
Federal workers and contractors, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, have had to scramble to feed their families, from raiding savings and retirement accounts to taking loans and even hitting food pantries.
Ross said he's heard those stories, but he thinks the workers should be more resourceful about getting loans to tide them over.
"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 borrowing from a bank or a credit union, are in effect federally guaranteed," Ross said. "So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi heard those words. They express sentiments that are going over poorly in a country where most families lack even several hundred dollars in savings to cover emergencies. If top members of the Trump administration keep saying such things, Democrats, regardless of any merits of their stance of not negotiating while the president is holding the government and its people hostage, will only be encouraged to stand their ground.
Pelosi made sure to highlight Ross's comments at her weekly news conference.
"I don't know," Pelosi said, though clearly she knew how it sounded to average people. "Is this a let them eat cake kind of attitude? Or call your father for money? Or, this is character-building for you? It's all going to end up very well, so long as you don't get your paychecks?"
Not long later, freshman Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton invited Ross to visit a food bank in her northern Virginia district.
“I hope Secretary Ross will join me this weekend to lend a hand to our federal employees and learn just how the shutdown has turned their lives upside-down," she said. “Our federal workers are worried about missing mortgage payments, funding their children’s educations, and providing medical care for their loved ones in addition to just being able to put food on the table every night.”