With budget numbers flying around like spitballs on the campaign trail these days, The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei deliver exactly the kind of analysis that readers — hey, remember they’re also voters — have been hankering for, breaking down the spin and trying to divine the substance of the candidates’ fiscal proposals.

In the ongoing fight over whose plan produces the bigger deficits and represents a fiscal trainwreck for the U.S., “there will be no winners,” write the two reporters. Why?

“Kerry’s failure to set priorities among the long list of programs he has proposed as a candidate and to provide more rigorous cost estimates leaves him vulnerable to the charge that his plan does not add up,” the Post reports.

“But the president [also] is vulnerable on two counts,” write Balz and VandeHei. “First, he has made assumptions about Kerry’s plans without knowing the details of what Kerry is proposing. Second, given the gaps in his own fiscal 2005 budget and other proposals he has made in office, he, too, has a tax gap that he has not accounted for.”

And then, the two writers carefully (or as carefully as is possible given the Kerry and Bush wing-and-a-prayer budget plans) walk their readers through the numbers — or absence of same.

Bottom line: The math is fuzzy for the moment (all the better to keep everybody off balance). But here’s hoping reporters keep their calculators at the ready; we’re going to need them throughout the rest of the campaign.

Susan Q. Stranahan

Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.