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Trump's economic strategy sounds more like an infomercial than a real plan

Alongside no-doc loans, effortless workouts and ice cream diets, Americans can add President Donald Trump's prescriptions for reviving economic growth.

The vision the president outlined at a "CEO Town Hall on Unleashing American Business" this week sounded almost too good to be true. And if results match those of his health-care promises, it was.

Trump condemned excessive business regulations. He vowed to "get rid of 90, 95 percent of it and still have the same kind of protection."

He blasted the lengthy permitting process for new construction projects as taking so long — 10 to 20 years — that builders go out of business before completing it. He vowed to speed it up so much that "it won't be any more than a year."

He blamed the Obama administration for diverting 2009 stimulus money to "social programs," noting "I haven't heard of anything that's been built." The president vowed to deliver a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan because "we have to build highways."

He decried the state of American schools, singling out "Common Core" education standards for blame. "We're going to spend a lot of money," Trump said, citing the interest of his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. "It's so important to them, the word 'education.'"

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds up a rubber mask of himself.
Getty Images
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds up a rubber mask of himself.

Earlier at the event, Ivanka Trump had pledged that the administration would champion apprenticeship programs that link businesses with local community colleges. Other speakers touted initiatives to make government data available to companies that can spur innovation and upgrade efficiency-enhancing technologies at government departments.

To varying degrees, those sentiments reflect broadly shared ideas for changing Washington. But their prospects for delivering the rapid transformation the administration promises remain dim.

For one thing, the ideas are not new. The Obama administration elevated apprenticeships as a budget priority, created a U.S. Digital Service to upgrade government technology and advanced the dissemination of "big data" for private sector use. Though Trump may not have heard, the stimulus bill, in fact, included substantial infrastructure investments, as well as aid to states and tax cuts for individuals and businesses.

For another, the Trump administration's budget proposed slashing funds for agencies that finance the education improvements, apprenticeship programs and infrastructure projects the town hall spotlighted. The departments of Education, Labor and Transportation all face double-digit cuts.

In the town hall, Trump claimed credit for good news that, just three months into his term, his administration has not influenced. For example, he hailed the reduction in February's trade deficit, even as the drop was driven by weaker U.S. demand for imported goods and stronger demand for U.S. exports driven by more vibrant economies elsewhere.

He said his victory had caused Ford to expand domestic auto plants, even though the expansions announced last week were set in motion long before the election.

"We're getting unbelievable credit for what we've done — other than the mainstream media, which just gives us no credit whatsoever," the president said.

Trump's approval ratings, historically low from the outset, suggest that most Americans, in fact, do not believe him. Those ratings have sunk even lower — to 35 percent in a Quinnipiac Poll this week — after the collapse of his effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

That effort was crippled by the contradiction between his promises and his actual health-care plan. Having pledged universal coverage, lower premiums and smaller deductibles, Trump asked House Republicans to approve a plan that reduced coverage, raised premiums and increased deductibles.

They declined. And Trump risks a similar rebuff on tax reform and infrastructure, where his promises also sound like late-night infomercials (Big cuts! More spending! Less debt!). He still hasn't offered specific proposals on either issue.

At the CEO town hall, the president did point to one area providing him the opportunity to claim sweeping success instantly. Trump repeated his campaign-trail assertions that the real unemployment rate is much higher than the 4.7 percent reported by the Labor Department most recently.

"We have 100 million people" not working, he said.

The overwhelming majority of people the president referred to are not working because they are students, retirees, stay-at-home parents and the like. The moment Trump, as an incumbent, accepts that they are not in the labor force, his estimation of joblessness will plummet.