One of the most glaring problems with Donald Trump's new budget plan is that its architects are bad at arithmetic. Politico
's Michael Grunwald explained
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.
Budget fights can admittedly get a little wonky, but this one's pretty straightforward: Trump's White House unveiled a budget plan that double-counts $2 trillion
. The president and his right-wing budget director, House Freedom Caucus co-founder Mick Mulvaney, specifically counts on $2 trillion in revenue to eliminate the deficit that the administration also devotes to paying for Trump's tax cuts.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."
Oh. So confronted with evidence that the Trump budget is basically a giant fraud, the president's budget director has decided to stick his head in the sand, while the president's Treasury secretary intends to worry about making the numbers add up some other time.In the immortal words of Casey Stengel, can't anybody here play this game?