Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OPINION -

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion got caught at­tempt­ing to com­mit fake math last week. It didn’t succeed. Here’s what hap­pened: Ev­ery year, the pres­i­dent is re­quired to send Congress a bud­get pro­posal, to lay out his wish list for taxes and spend­ing. Pres­i­dent Trump or­dered up a plan that would lower taxes, in­crease mil­i­tary spend­ing and balance the bud­get within 10 years, all with­out cut­ting So­cial Se­cu­rity or Medi­care.

And that’s what his bud­get direc­tor, Mick Mul­vaney, de­liv­ered. But to meet his boss’s un­re­al­is­tic goals, Mul­vaney pro­duced a doc­u­ment that didn’t make much sense.

That’s not just my view; it’s the view of fis­cal ex­perts in both par­ties.

Bud­get ex­perts no­ticed an od­dity in Mul­vaney’s arith­metic. The pro­posal es­ti­mated that his 3 per­cent growth in the econ­omy would pro­duce more than $2 tril­lion in in­creased tax rev­enue, help­ing to balance the bud­get. Most of that growth, in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s view, would be pro­duced by the big tax cuts it’s seek­ing.

But the bud­get didn’t men­tion the rev­enue that would be lost by the tax cuts — a num­ber that could reach, oh, $2 tril­lion or so. In­stead, it listed the tax cuts as “rev­enue neu­tral,” mean­ing they’d pro­duce as much rev­enue as they lost — thanks, of course, to 3 per­cent growth.

In short, the White House counted the same $2 tril­lion twice — once to pay for the tax cuts and once to re­duce the deficit.

That wasn’t the only od­dity. The bud­get called for abol­ish­ing the es­tate tax, but nev­er­the­less counted $330 bil­lion of rev­enue from es­tate taxes. It called for fund­ing Trump’s wall on the bor­der with Mex­ico, but pro­vided less than 10 per­cent of what the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity says a wall would cost.

Of course, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies have had prob­lems with arith­metic be­fore.

They’ve raged against the non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice, which last week es­ti­mated that the House Repub­li­cans’ health care bill would re­sult in 23 mil­lion more peo­ple with­out health in­sur­ance — and raise costs for mil­lions more.

Trump of­fi­cials have also con­tested the govern­ment’s es­ti­mates of un­em­ploy­ment — ex­cept when the num­ber goes down, in which case they claim credit for the change.

They’ve claimed that Trump was the vic­tim of wide­spread vote fraud on Elec­tion Day, de­spite the ab­sence of ev­i­dence, arith­meti­cal or oth­er­wise. They’re even spend­ing fed­eral money to in­ves­ti­gate the prob­lem.

And the pres­i­dent still thinks he drew the largest crowds in his­tory to his in­au­gu­ra­tion, even though photographs and cal­cu­la­tions prove him wrong.

This re­fusal to ac­cept that 2+ 2 = 4 isn’t or­di­nary po­lit­i­cal spin or the quirk of a former real es­tate de­vel­oper who once pro­moted a 58-story build­ing as of­fer­ing 68 floors. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s war on math is just one front in a broader war on facts — in­clud­ing the new prac­tice of dis­miss­ing any neg­a­tive re­port as “fake news.”

And it’s strate­gic. It’s aimed at avoid­ing ac­count­abil­ity.

Trump’s proud­est claim, now that he’s pres­i­dent, is that he’s keep­ing the prom­ises he made to vot­ers in his cam­paign. Only he isn’t. His un­re­al­is­tic bud­get plan won’t pro­duce a bal­anced bud­get. The health care bill he backs won’t cover ev­ery­one, won’t re­duce their costs, and won’t pro­tect Med­i­caid. The tax cuts he said would ben­e­fit the mid­dle class would flow mostly to the wealthy in­stead.

What’s an em­bat­tled pres­i­dent to do when he can’t de­liver? At­tack the score­keep­ers — whether they are jour­nal­ists, the CBO, or the bud­geters.

Most peo­ple, how­ever, aren’t buy­ing what Trump’s sell­ing.

Be­ing pres­i­dent, as Trump has com­plained, is harder than be­ing a real es­tate pro­moter. There’s far more scru­tiny.

In the case of the bud­get flim­flam, for ex­am­ple, Trump may have out­foxed him­self. One bud­get ex­pert, former Se­nate Demo­cratic aide Stan Col­len­der, says the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s un­re­al­is­tic num­bers have prob­a­bly killed Repub­li­cans’ chances for pass­ing a tax bill this year — and maybe next year too.

If he’s right, that’s a big prob­lem for Trump. Those tax cuts were the core of the pres­i­dent’s eco­nomic pro­gram, the key to pro­duc­ing any­thing like 3 per­cent growth. No tax cuts means no Trump bump. And vot­ers would notice.

Trump is still wag­ing his war on facts. But the facts are push­ing back.

Doyle McManus

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