Alternative Fact of the Week: Lies, damn lies and White House deficit projections

It’s been a week of flag-waving, fireworks and expanded hiring in special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s office. In honor of those acts of patriotism, and the looming trade war with China, Alternative Fact of the Week salutes the men who captain the nation’s economic policy for their shameless prevarication in the face of numbers that easily prove them wrong. Rarely has the country owed so much — well, period. We don’t need the “to so few” part at all.

Here are the claims. Behold them and weep.

First, there was Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, bragging on Fox Business Network that the deficit was not only shrinking but “coming down rapidly.” Robust growth was alleged to be fixing the imbalance between the federal government’s revenues and its spending. This is so obviously false that Mr. Kudlow later amended his remarks, telling The Washington Post that he “probably” should have said “future deficits.” And yet, that’s false, too.

Not to be outdone, President Trump has been similarly touting economic growth. He told supporters in Wisconsin late last week that the nation’s GDP had “hit” a 3.2 percent growth rate “right now.” That’s not only false, it’s a well-worn lie. He has previously said the U.S. economy is the “strongest we’ve ever had,” which is an even more sweeping misrepresentation of reality.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Please. First, the deficit. It’s not shrinking, it’s growing. That’s what happens when you reduce taxes but increase government spending, as President Trump and Congress have done in the last year. But even before the latest spending bill passed Congress in March, the deficit was expanding during the Trump term — from $585 billion in Fiscal 2016, the last full year of Barack Obama, to $665 billion in 2017. Not only does Mr. Trump’s own Treasury Department see further deficit growth so far in 2018 ($41 billion above the previous fiscal year), but the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan arbiter of such matters, projects steep increases in future years, surpassing the $1 trillion mark by 2020.

We’ve written about President Trump’s rose-colored glasses on growth before. That 3.2 percent growth rate he mentions so frequently was for a single quarter — the third quarter of 2017. In the fourth quarter, the real GDP growth rate was 2.9 percent, and it was 2.0 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That’s not terrible, it’s just not especially different from what the country has been experiencing in recent years. Under President Obama, quarterly GDP growth exceeded 3 percent eight times. A sustained 3 percent growth rate over an entire year? That’s a bit more rare, having not been recorded in a decade and a half — including Mr. Trump’s first 18 months.

What’s peculiar about these claims — if the Trump administration’s pattern of lying and gross exaggeration strikes anyone as anything other than business as usual these days — is how easily they can be disproved. At this point, isn’t it just insulting to Americans to be told there’s record economic growth when there so obviously is not? Or is the Trump base so isolated in their Alex Jones conspiracy theorist bubble that they dismiss math and accounting?

They just might. This week on Twitter, President Trump condemned his predecessor for granting citizenship to 2,500 Iranians as part of the nuclear deal negotiations. “How big (and bad) is that?” he tweeted Tuesday. Um, not very. Fact-checkers, including Snopes, traced that claim to a single cleric quoted in a Persian language news outlet with dubious credibility and found no confirmation by anyone anywhere. It was, however, touted by “Fox & Friends,” the president’s favorite morning show. Had he picked up a phone and called in to his own State Department, instead of posting on Twitter, Mr. Trump doubtless could have gotten his story straight. He didn’t, of course. That’s not how he rolls.

And why not stick to alternative facts? A recent poll suggests more Americans than ever like how President Trump is handling the economy. The CNBC poll found his approval ratings up 2 percent, despite the immigrant family controversy. Misrepresenting what’s happening in the economy — and the price we’re paying for Republican tax-cut-and-spend opportunism — appears to be working for this White House. Why let a little thing like the truth stand in the way?

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