WASHINGTON -- The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a gloomy report this week about the government's debt and the ailing economy. And it's worse than the Obama administration has led us to believe.
The first graph in the CBO's "Budget and Economic Outlook" tells us what most economists already knew, but that the White House refuses to acknowledge: "Economic growth will remain slow this year ..."
By "slow," Congress' nonpartisan forecasting agency means the economy will grow by "just 1.4 percent," which means it's barely moving, stuck in a paralytic trance where relatively few jobs are created and our country slogs along at a permanently sluggish pace.
"That subdued economic growth will limit businesses' need to hire additional workers, thereby causing the unemployment rate to stay near 8 percent this year," the CBO says.
Then it hits us with this unpleasant forecast: Next year isn't looking much better.
If the jobs picture and slow growth estimates are as bad as they say, "2014 will be the sixth consecutive year with unemployment exceeding 7 1/2 percent of the labor force -- the longest such period in the past 70 years."
The CBO forecasts that economic growth will "pick up in later years," but it's offered similar forecasts in past years that haven't panned out quite the way it hoped.
Nevertheless, it adds ominously that "under the fiscal policies embodied in current law, (economic) output is expected to remain below its potential (or maximum sustainable) level until 2017 ..." More on this in a moment.
The CBO does offer some encouraging estimates about the budget deficit in the short term, but don't break out the champagne just yet.
Under Obama, annual federal deficits over the past four years have been consistently well above $1 trillion. And this year's deficit was on track to be another $1 trillion-plus.
But the CBO says the deficit "will shrink this year to $845 billion, or 5.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), its smallest size since 2008."
That remains to be seen, because forecasters in the last four years have been underestimating the economy's persistently slow growth under Obama's big-spending policies.
But there's another worrying factor in the CBO's projections, and that is its forecast of a growing "output gap" in the years to come.
Washington Post economics analyst Neil Irwin says that he's not popping the champagne cork on the small decline in the deficit, either. He's focusing on another bigger deficit that looms ahead of us. He explains: