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White House slams CBO assessment of shutdown impact, deficit

‘I won’t acknowledge any of that,’ dismissive Kudlow says

Federal workers and contractors, along with their unions, staged a protest calling for and end to the government shutdown, which ended Friday. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Federal workers and contractors, along with their unions, staged a protest calling for and end to the government shutdown, which ended Friday. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The White House is taking umbrage with a gloomy Congressional Budget Office economic assessment regarding the partial government shutdown triggered by President Donald Trump’s proposed southern border wall.

In a new report, CBO concluded a quarter of the federal government being closed for 35 days cost the U.S. economy $11 billion, $3 billion of which will never be recovered — not even when 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed receive the two paychecks they missed in January.

In another new report on CBO’s latest budget baseline update, the agency estimates the fiscal 2019 deficit will be $897 billion, down by $75 billion from the $973 billion projected in the CBO’s previous budget outlook.

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“No, I won’t acknowledge any of that right now,” White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said during the first press briefing of the year in the White House James A. Brady briefing room. “It’s awfully hard to make even the best guesstimates of those kinds of small fractions of numbers.”

On basic matters of evaluating the current state of the economy and factors like the long-term effects of a government shutdown, Kudlow said the administration has “fundamental differences” with CBO.

On the deficits issue, the Trump administration intends to send Congress a “strong, tough” budget proposal that restrains government spending in fiscal 2020, Kudlow said.

In one of the few light moments of the rare White House press briefing, Kudlow repeated his prediction of 3 percent growth in the next government assessment of the U.S. economy. Then he, out of the blue, used sports gambling vernacular, he said those who “took the over” on the economy’s performance will be big winners.

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After the quip, he smiled in the direction of two senior press aides who were seated nearby.

The crux of the briefing was to announce the administration is slapping new sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company to prevent Nicolás Maduro from taking funds for his own use from the outfit, with White House National Security Adviser John Bolton and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin breaking that news at the session’s start.

Mnuchin called on all U.S. allies to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president. He and Bolton reiterated that Trump is keeping “all options” on the table for dealing with the political unrest there.

And in a quintessentially Trump-era moment, there was one major contradiction: Mnuchin claimed “significant progress” has been made over the last month during U.S. officials’ trade talks with their Chinese counterparts.

But in late November, Kudlow told reporters Chinese officials have not budged much at all during two years of on-again-off-again talks.

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