Again, this is correct, but slowing down and explaining each concept could have avoided the confusing juxtaposition of budget “improvement” with the depressing data about slower economic growth and fewer jobs.

That sort of unpacking was done over at the Post’s Wonkblog, where Neil Irwin had a smart piece drawing attention to just how much the lingering economic slowdown has reduced Gross Domestic Product, compared to the CBO’s estimate of potential GDP. The “output gap” is about 6 percent—or a trillion dollars annually.

And Wonkblog scored again with a post by Brad Plumer (helpfully linked in the online version of Montgomery and Goldfarb’s article) that explains the new budget outlook in six charts, concisely explained to focus readers on the salient points.

In his A1 story, the Journal’s Paletta also gave thought to readers and the nuances of fiscal issues. His third graf included a parenthetical explanation of the difference between the federal budget deficit and the federal debt:

The deficit is the difference between spending and revenues in a given year; the debt is the government’s total borrowing or the sum of past deficits.
That reminder would have been even better had it not implied budgets are always in deficit, and instead stated that a deficit occurs when spending exceeds revenues in a given year. As the line cut from the NYT piece shows, when reporters sit down to write they need to be careful about letting politically charged messages from the Washington echo chamber slip past their skepticism.

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David Cay Johnston covers fiscal and budget matters for CJR’s United States Project. He is a reporter with 46 years of experience, including 13 at The New York Times; a columnist for Tax Analysts; teaches tax and regulatory law at Syracuse University Law School; and is president of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). Follow him on Twitter @DavidCayJ.