Budget proposals always involve some guesswork into the unknowable, and administrations routinely massage numbers to their political advantage. But this proposal is unusually brazen in its defiance of basic math, and in its accounting discrepancies amounting to trillions-with-a-t rather than mere millions or billions. [...]
Trump critics in the budget-wonk world are pointing to another $2 trillion of red ink as a blatant math error -- or, less charitably, as an Enron-style accounting fraud.
Harvard economist Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary and National Economic Council director in the previous two Democratic administrations, wrote in the Washington Post that this represents "the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them." Summers added that the mistake is "a logical error of the kind that would justify failing a student in an introductory economics course."
And while this is certainly a discouraging development for those hoping the White House is capable of rudimentary governmental competence -- $2 trillion isn't exactly a rounding error -- what makes this especially fascinating to me is what Trump World is saying now that "the mystery money" problem has been exposed.
Mick Mulvaney, who's chiefly responsible for the Trump administration's budget, is currently pretending that the double-counting gimmick doesn't exist. "We stand by the numbers," he told reporters yesterday.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, meanwhile, sat down with CNBC's John Harwood, who asked the Trump cabinet secretary to respond to the concerns. Mnuchin responded:
"So the budget was built on, what is the administration's economic plans, and economic numbers which we've talked about, which are getting to 3 percent growth. So I think [Lawrence Summers], I think in all fairness to him, the issue is more of this is a preliminary document that will be refined, as we go through a process with Congress determining how money is spent."
In the immortal words of Casey Stengel, can't anybody here play this game?