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Trump's budget chief thinks Obama admin 'manipulated' jobs data

The United States has almost certainly never had a budget chief as nutty as Trump's OMB director, Mick Mulvaney.
U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)
U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C.
A great video montage made the rounds over the weekend showing Donald Trump, before he was elected president, talking about the unemployment rate. It's a jarring video for a reason: the Republican not only dismissed the nation's unemployment rate as "phony," he acted as if only an idiot would believe the official data.It was, to a very real extent, one of the core messages of his campaign: right-thinking people should listen to Trump and treat the unemployment rate as a ridiculous fiction. That is, until last week, when the GOP president and his team decided the phony number is now "real" -- because Trump says so.Obviously, this is absurd, but as it turns out, the president isn't the only one saying nutty things about U.S. job data. Take the new director of Trump's Office of Management and Budget, for example.

Mick Mulvaney told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday that he has long thought the previous administration framed data to make the unemployment rate "look smaller than it actually was.""What you should really look at is the number of jobs created," Mulvaney said on "State of the Union." "We've thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers, in terms of the number of people in the workforce, to make the unemployment rate -- that percentage rate -- look smaller than it actually was."

Now, one might expect this kind of nonsense from Trump or some random conservative blowhard on Twitter, but Mulvaney is the nation's budget director -- and he really ought to steer clear of ridiculous conspiracy theories.The way the unemployment rate is calculated hasn't changed much in generations, and at no point did anyone in the Obama administration "manipulate" anything. Mulvaney, a right-wing congressman before joining Team Trump, must have some rudimentary understanding of these details.If the South Carolina Republican wants to make the case that the total number of jobs created is a more important metric, fine. In fact, I made the same argument many, many times throughout the Obama era, but to argue on national television that the previous administration "was manipulating the numbers" is bonkers, even by this White House's standards.In a separate ABC News interview, Mulvaney was asked about the upcoming Congressional Budget Office's estimate on the Republican health care plan. "I love the folks at the CBO. They work really hard. They do," he said. "But sometimes we ask them to do stuff they aren't capable of doing. And estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn't the best use of their time."This is absurd, too. The whole point of the Congressional Budget Office is to do exactly this: examine legislation for members of Congress, providing them with detailed analyses of a bill's cost and impact. For the OMB director to say the CBO isn't "capable" of doing its job is simply preposterous on its face.All of this serves as a timely reminder: Trump has picked one of the most bizarre budget directors in the history of the office.As we discussed when Mulvaney was nominated last month, the Republican once described his approach to budget negotiations in a memorable way: "I'll play chicken with you every time. You think I am crazy, and I know you are not." Mulvaney's philosophy, in other words, is predicated on the assumption that Democrats will be responsible and take steps to avoid hurting people, and he wants his rivals to know he has no comparable concerns.Mulvaney, a co-founder of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, also celebrated the 2013 government shutdown as "good policy," and championed the Republicans' 2011 debt-ceiling hostage crisis, arguing publicly that if the United States went into default, he didn't think it would matter.Now he's falsely accusing the Obama administration of "manipulating" the unemployment rate. We didn't need another reminder of just how abnormal this administration is, but we've received one anyway.