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White House to forgo summer economic forecast amid COVID-19, breaking precedent

White House to forgo summer economic forecast amid COVID-19, breaking precedent
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The White House will not release an updated round of economic projections this summer, breaking from precedent as the U.S. faces its deepest downturn since the Great Depression, two administration officials familiar with the decision confirmed to The Hill on Thursday. 

The Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), the internal White House economic team, will not release the typical midsummer review of its initial economic projections in July or August even as top Trump administration officials publicly predict a swift recovery from the crisis caused by COVID-19. The projections are typically produced jointly by the Office of Management and Budget, CEA and Treasury Department.

Administration officials say that the decision, first reported by The Washington Post, was made because the state of the economy during the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in fluctuating economic data that would produce a forecast that could mislead the public. 

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A White House official noted that the CEA is under no legal obligation to release an updated version of its initial February forecast, which is released with the president’s annual budget proposal, and said the precedent of doing so is “dismissible” given the uncertainty facing the economy.

“It is foolish to demand such a forecast simply because that is business as usual, particularly when that forecast may mislead the public,” the official said.

The rapidly evolving economic damage caused by COVID-19 has posed an enormous challenge to economists seeking to track its course. The unprecedented speed of the downturn and the uncertain path of the pandemic have forced forecasters to frequently update and revise their projections, typically toward deeper harm to the economy. 

Even so, several other federal agencies and departments have charged ahead with their midyear projections, including the Federal Reserve and Congressional Budget Office.

The unemployment rate spiked to 14.7 percent in April from 3.5 percent in March.

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE and his advisers have expressed optimism that the economy will rebound by the end of the year, though officials have acknowledged that the unemployment rate is likely to exceed 20 percent in May before the economy begins to recover. 

Former White House and federal government economists criticized the CEA’s decision to forgo its typical summer update, insisting the panel should give its best effort amid the challenges facing every economist and analyst. Several suggested that the CEA did not want to commit to a prediction about the state of the economy that could undermine Trump’s reelection chances.

“This is disgraceful by the White House,” tweeted Aaron Sojourner, a senior CEA economist under from 2016 to 2017, insisting that the decision could be driven by a gulf between what “would be politically acceptable to them & what would not destroy any credibility.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who led the White House budget office under former President George W. Bush, suggested to the Post that “It gets them off the hook for having to say what the economic outlook looks like.”

A senior administration official noted that there is precedent for not releasing the data, pointing to 2017, when the Trump administration did not release the economic projections. The official said that the figures were released in both 2018 and 2019.

Updated at 5:52 p.m.