What happened: The White House will forego the publication of an economic analysis on budget projections in the summer of 2020, even though this scientific analysis has been published every year since the 1970s.
Why it matters: By deciding to suppress the publication of scientific research, the White House is denying Congress and the public updated information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our country’s economic situation.
Breaking with over 40 years of precedent established by previous administrations, White House officials have decided to stop publication of the scientific portions of a budget update to Congress. Normally, the congressionally-mandated mid-session review includes updated economic analyses that show projected trends in unemployment, inflation, and economic growth. Economists, budget experts, and former administration officials have highly criticized the removal of these analyses and the White House’s justification for doing so, with some going so far as to suggest that this is an attempt to hide critical predictions about the state of economy just before the November election.
White House officials defended their decision by stating that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing extreme volatility in the US economy. One senior administrational official claimed that modelling economic trends would be “foolish” and could “mislead the public.” However, experts have pointed out that other governmental entities, like the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve, have carried out (or are in the processing of carrying out) midyear economic projections that would take into the effect the severe economic downturns caused by the pandemic. Furthermore, the Obama administration published these economic projections during the Great Recession, which was also a time of extreme economic volatility and unfavorable forecasts.
This is not the first time that the Trump administration has buried an economic analysis due to political considerations. In September 2017, the administration suppressed an economic study by the Department of Health and Human Services which showed that refugees brought in tens of billions of dollars more in government revenue than they cost. In the same month, the Department of Treasury removed an economic analysis from its website that provided evidence that a corporate tax cut would benefit rich Americans far more than middle-class workers.
While there are other sources that Congress and economists can use to estimate the state of the US economy and the budget of the federal government, nonetheless, the White House’s budget updates are a key element in how economists estimate how much money is available for the federal government to carry out its operations. Federal agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy, use the administration’s economic information to plan their budgetary requests to Congress, meaning that a lack of this information could throw into chaos the very processes that determine how federal agencies are funded. Without these economic analyses made publicly available, the Trump administration is essentially suppressing needed scientific research that could be used to more accurately estimate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the US economy and how that will affect the budget of the US federal government.