The parallel universe of President Donald Trump’s budget, explained

The parallel universe budgets released by presidents, unlike those negotiated by Congress, are more like political fan fiction than modestly crafted, passable agendas.

President Donald Trump’s parallel universe budget takes this art form to another level — really, to another universe. Some of the issues and questions stem from the surprise budget resolution last week in Congress, which delivered more money but — so far — no clear plan for precisely how it would be spent.
All the same, budget wonks’ heads are spinning as they try to parse the dense document for political messages and accounting quirks.

In Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget plan, released Monday, numbers typically highlighted upfront are shuffled or stuffed away into back sections. The changes from Friday’s bargain in Congress were baked in as an afterthought to the core document, creating even steeper, more implausible cuts. Many of the underlying economic assumptions arrive at odds with past Congressional Budget Office reports and the analysis of nonpartisan outsiders.

Some of this is just a result of the erratic relationship between the White House and Congress. Planning a budget from the executive branch is complicated; it’s nigh on impossible when legislators throw an eleventh-hour spending pact at you. Despite it all, the budget plan remains a crucially informative and important document — an annual view into the President’s priorities and goals.

“The executive budget has always been a messaging document,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Monday. “What are the messages this year? There’s two primary messages. Number one: You don’t have to spend all of this money, Congress, but if you do, here’s how we would prefer to see you spend it. … And the other message is that we do not have to have trillion dollar deficits forever.”

Here are some of the things to be on the lookout for when interpreting Trump’s budget — and his message.

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