Late Friday afternoon, the Treasury Department published the official report on the U.S. budget deficit for the most recent fiscal year: $1.089 trillion. While that's obviously still a very large budget shortfall, the deficit is $200 billion smaller than it was last year, and is nearly $300 billion smaller than when President Obama took office.
To add a little historical context to this, over the last four decades, only two presidents have reduced the deficit this much, this quickly: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
When the president's critics spin this, they'll say, "The deficit was over $1 trillion again," and that will be accurate. What the criticism fails to note, however, is that (a) the deficit is now much smaller than it was when Obama took office; (b) this is the smallest deficit we've seen in four years; (c) this new figure represents an improvement of over $200 billion since last year; and (d) the main drivers of the remaining deficit are Republican policies.
ut perhaps most important is the detail that's gone largely forgotten: Romney doesn't have a deficit-reduction plan. It simply doesn't exist. If you go to the Romney/Ryan "issues" page, you'll see 29 links. One mentions "spending," but there are no references to "deficit" or "debt."
If one looks hard enough, there is a "Romney Plan For Deficit Reduction" on the campaign's website, but the entirety of the plan is literally just 208 words long. (For contrast, note that President Obama published a plan of his own over a year ago. It's 80 pages.)
Making matters worse, Romney's ridiculously thin, 208-word plan actually includes provisions that would make the deficit worse, not better, such as destroying the Affordable Care Act.
I should note that all of this is predicated on the assumption that deficits are something bad to be avoided, and that a shrinking deficit is necessarily encouraging news. There's a competing school of thought -- which I'm sympathetic to -- that suggests the deficit is currently too small, and that given economic conditions, interest rates, and the current yield of Treasuries, we should be borrowing far more and investing that money in job creation.