ABOUT THAT BALANCED-BUDGET PROMISE…. The notion that John McCain can inherit a half-trillion dollar deficit, cut taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars, respond to a massive financial crisis, keep two wars going, and eliminate the entire budget shortfall in four years is utterly ridiculous. This week, the McCain campaign walked the senator’s promise back a bit.

The financial crisis has “thrown a wrench” in the plan of U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain to balance the budget in his first term, his economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin said on Monday.

McCain has pledged to reduce government spending and balance the federal budget by 2013 and has insisted that the current financial crisis will not alter his campaign promises.

“The events of the past few months have completely thrown a wrench into that, there’s no way round it. He would still like to balance it. It’s going to be harder, take longer,” said Holtz-Eakin at a debate with his Democratic counterpart at Columbia University in New York.

I think the word the kids use is “duh.” Of course it’s going to be “harder” and will “take longer” to balance the biggest deficits in American history. What bugs me, though, is the constant claims to the contrary. McCain and aides started the campaign vowing to balance the budget in four years.

Then they changed their mind, and said McCain wouldn’t balance the budget in four years.

Then they changed their mind again, and said McCain would.

A week later they changed their mind again, and said McCain wouldn’t.

At the third presidential debate, McCain changed his mind again, and said he would.

Less than a week later, they’ve changed their mind yet again, and said he wouldn’t.

So, for those keeping score at home, McCain does, doesn’t, does, doesn’t, does, and doesn’t promise voters to eliminate the deficit by 2013.

Remember when McCain considered his straight-talking consistency one of his selling points?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.