Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Between the health-care plan it supported, its tax-reform outline and its budget, the Trump administration has demonstrated an unusual degree of intellectual dishonesty. Most administrations take liberties with economic projections and re-interpretations of campaign promises, but it is rare to see a team of advisers so blatantly and ineptly trying to conceal what they are up to. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s recent testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee (in which he insisted that the administration was for a “21st-century Dodd-Frank” but not for breaking up banks — something akin to adopting a healthy diet but not giving up chocolate sundaes at every meal) and an interview with CNBC reveal the five major head fakes the Trump administration is trying to pull off.

First, the Trump administration refuses to acknowledge that it has reneged on its vow not to touch entitlements:

John Harwood: … Why did the president break that promise not to touch Medicaid — separate from the ACA expansion? And does that mean — perhaps to the gratification of people in this room — that he is also likely to break his promise on Social Security and Medicare?

Mnuchin: I think the president has no intention on changing Social Security. I will tell you as a trustee of the Social Security Trust Fund, this is something that Congress may look at, OK, but the president does not want to change entitlements.

Harwood: But if he doesn’t want to change entitlements, why did you go along with the Medicaid reductions?

Mnuchin: Again, I think the Medicaid reductions, and what’s gone on, what the president is trying to do is control health care costs. I think as you heard in the introduction, health care costs are one of the largest challenges. We have a system that was broken, and we’re trying to fix that system and that’s what the health care plan is all about.

Harwood: Right, but he did say in the campaign he wasn’t going to touch that health care program, Medicaid, and Medicare as well.

Mnuchin: I’m not going to comment on the health care. The health care is going through the system. Again, the tax plan is all about creating jobs and growth.

Not going to comment on health care when the subject is cuts to Medicaid and Medicare? Moreover, the idea that President Trump is merely  “controlling costs”  — with no reform plan, just a reduction in funding — is double talk, and not even well-disguised double talk. Are Medicaid recipients getting less or not? Will fewer people be protected by Medicaid?

President Trump repeatedly promised to preserve Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits in campaign speeches and debates. Will he stick to his campaign promises? (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Second, the Trump administration will not admit it is engaged in a massive giveaway to the rich.

Harwood: Now, you said on my network, after the president was elected, that there would be no absolute tax cut for people at the top because the elimination of deductions would offset the rate reductions. Now, your campaign plan had a cap on deductions but did not achieve that goal. It had a big tax cut for people at the top. Are you pledging now that when we do the distribution analysis of the administration tax plan that there will be zero benefit for, say, the top 10 percent or top 1 percent of taxpayers, and a much larger benefit for middle-income taxpayers?

Mnuchin: That comment that I made on CNBC has now become so infamous that it’s been named the Mnuchin rule.. . .

Harwood: But your intent would then be a middle-income tax cut and a zero tax cut for people at the top.

Mnuchin: Again, what I had said is the president’s priority has been not cutting taxes for the high end. His priority is about creating a middle-income tax cut. So, we’ll see where it comes out. Different people have different views, but that’s the president’s objective.

Is Trump giving the rich a big fat tax cut or not? Actually, he already did — in the GOP health-care plan.

Third, the Trump administration has no plausible explanation for why its policies won’t lead to a mammoth increase in the debt.

When it was pointed out that the budget does not actually count the cost of the tax cut, estimated at about $5.5 trillion, Mnuchin insisted that “we are not going to propose something that costs anything like $4 or $5 trillion. People who have estimated that, in my mind, are just not responsible because they don’t know the details.” So his defense is that they really have no specific tax plan? If so, it makes the budget (which is supposed to balance over 10 years) a joke. Mnuchin was no more convincing on growth estimates:

Harwood: Let’s talk about economic growth. You have said that growth is your objective. And your budget projects that you get on a sustainable basis to 3 percent growth after that.

Mnuchin: That’s correct.

Harwood: Mainstream economists that I have seen have settled on their growth estimates of in the range of 2 percent, a little above, a little below. Where do you see that growth coming from in light of this fact? Economic growth is a product of labor, and productivity. The administration is proposing through its immigration policies to actually reduce the supply of labor. Where does the productivity increase come from that gets you to 3 percent that your economic colleagues think is unrealistic?

Mnuchin went on to discuss immigration (below) and never answered the question of how he gets to 3 percent growth.

Fourth, the Trump administration won’t own up to the anti-growth aspect of its immigration stance.

Harwood: Mainstream economists that I have seen have settled on their growth estimates of in the range of 2 percent, a little above, a little below. Where do you see that growth coming from in light of this fact? Economic growth is a product of labor, and productivity. The administration is proposing through its immigration policies to actually reduce the supply of labor. Where does the productivity increase come from that gets you to 3 percent that your economic colleagues think is unrealistic?

Mnuchin: Well, let me just first comment on the immigration policy. The president is focused on stopping illegal immigration.

Harwood: He’s working with Congressional Republicans, Tom Cotton, for example, on reducing legal immigration.

Mnuchin: I understand, but the primary focus is on illegal immigration. Now, two things. The published unemployment rate as you know is very low, roughly around 4.5 percent. A good component of that is people that have left the workforce because they can no longer find jobs, so they stop looking at jobs. So we think that if you look at the real unemployment rate, it’s somewhere between the 4.5 percent level and the 8 and 9 percent level. So, one component of this is making sure that we create jobs for people who want jobs and will come back into the workforce. And the other component as you said is productivity and capital investment, and a big part of our economic plan is about boosting capital investment in this country.

Whether Trump is “primarily” interested in reducing illegal immigration or not, he now seems to be encouraging an economically foolish plan to reduce legal immigration. If he’s all about growth, he should tell Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and others to knock it off. If he’s with them, he should at least admit that he is pushing an anti-growth initiative.

Fifth, the Trump administration won’t present a budget that has a ghost of a chance of passing.

As we have pointed out, this incorporates draconian cuts that already are proposed in the “skinny” budget. That didn’t fly, nor will anything resembling this.