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Trumponomics Daily—Monday, March 13

White House press secretary Sean Spicer elicited some unfortunate laughs from reporters Friday on the subject of the latest jobs report. The numbers for February, President Trump’s first full month in office, showed solid gains: The economy added 235,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.7%. Considering Trump before taking office referred to jobs reports as “phony” and “totally fiction,” a CNBC correspondent asked, does the president now trust the same study as an accurate measure of the economy? “I talked to the president prior to this,” a smirking Spicer said, “and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’” Laughter rolled through the briefing room, the joke evidently being that the president serially tries to run down public trust in institutions critical to informed policymaking when their facts don’t suit his needs.

That’s not funny. And on Sunday, another senior administration official made clear that it isn’t a joke. Mick Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman now serving as Trump’s budget director, doubled down on the fake jobs numbers claim in a CNN interview. “What you should really look at is the number of jobs created,” he said. “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.”

There’s no evidence that the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has ever fudged the data behind its monthly reports. That didn’t stop Trump on the campaign trail from routinely claiming that the real unemployment rate was 42%. It’s worth noting that the original source for that assertion — debunked by fact-checkers — appears to be a jeremiad from David Stockman, himself a former congressman and Reagan administration budget director, against Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen’s monetary policy. This week, the central bank, queuing off Friday’s jobs report, is expected to hike interest rates to keep the economy from overheating. That could put Yellen on a collision course with the Trump administration and its aims to double economic growth and goose new job creation. So far, at least, White House officials have shown little inclination to criticize the Fed.

The Trump team faces an even more immediate challenge from another federal agency. The Congressional Budget Office as soon as today will issue its analysis of Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to remake Obamacare. The report will quantify how many millions of Americans will lose healthcare coverage under the White House-backed bill and what it will cost, a potential political nightmare for those hustling to salvage the proposal after its rocky debut last week. Trump officials over the weekend issued a prebuttal by attacking the CBO’s credibility. “In the past, the CBO score has really been meaningless,” White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said Sunday. Expect to hear a lot more of that in the months ahead, as Democrats are already broadcasting they intend to make the issue central to their 2018 midterm pitch to voters.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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