George W. Bush took to the airwaves this morning to announce "good news for the American taxpayer." The federal government, he said, is "cutting the budget deficit faster than we expected."
There's more than a little smoke-and-mirrors action going on here. When the president claims that he's ahead of his plan to cut the deficit in half by 2009, we're supposed to forget the fact that the starting point for that 50 percent cut -- a deficit of $521 billion -- is one that never really existed in the first place. When Bush launched his plan in 2004, the deficit was $412 billion. But instead of using that number, the administration relied on the much higher number -- $521 billion -- that had been projected for the 2004 deficit but never came to pass. Why? Because it's a lot easier to get to half of $521 billion, or around $260 billion, than it is to get to half of $412 billion, which is $206 billion.
As Brad DeLong explains in Salon today, numbers games like that one continue to be a hallmark of the Bush budget plan. How is Bush doing in a more objective sense? Think Progress has the numbers. Bush inherited a budget surplus of $284 billion. If his administration's current estimate holds up, 2006 will bring a budget deficit of $286 billion. That's an improvement over 2003, 2004 and 2005, but it's still the fourth worst budget deficit in U.S. history. No. 5 on the list? The deficit piled up under the president's father in 1992.