Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, dropped by the Post this week with Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University, to discuss their new joint venture to help any Starbucks employee, even part-timers, get a college degree. Every barista will be eligible, and no one has to promise to stay at Starbucks after earning the BA. It’s an unprecedented commitment by a big company — Schultz figured Starbucks could be paying tuition for 10,000 of its staff a year from now — and they were appropriately voluble on the subject.

But Schultz really grew animated when I asked whether anything going on in Washington affects his coffee-selling business.

“Are you kidding me?” Schultz responded. Washington’s “inability to get things done,” he said, and increasing “dysfunction and polarization,” are having an ever-deeper effect on citizens and businesses throughout the country.


Howard Schultz, president and CEO of Starbucks. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

“When the government shut down there were unintended consequences for many, many months—on consumer behavior and confidence—that were not understood at the time,” the Seattle businessman said. “Those are lessons that should not be forgotten… We’re at a point where you have to ask, how much more can the country take?”

Schultz said he welcomed the “signs of sanity and civility” when his home-state senator, Washington Democrat Patty Murray, and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan forged a budget compromise late last year, but he said the constructiveness “doesn’t appear to have lasted.”

So he’d like to see the two parties working together?

“I would get down on my knees,” Schultz said. “The country is longing and so hungry for leadership and a sign of bipartisan cooperation.”

Rising student debt, limited access to college for working adults and low completion rates at community and four-year colleges are all national problems that Starbucks and ASU obviously can’t solve on their own, and Schultz said they don’t mean to absolve Washington of its responsibility.

“But we can’t wait for Washington,” he said.

Fred Hiatt is the editorial page editor of The Post. He writes editorials for the newspaper and a biweekly column that appears on Mondays. He also contributes to the PostPartisan blog.