A CLOSER LOOK AT ‘THE VIRGINIA STRATEGY’…. The Wall Street Journal editorial board has an item today heralding Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s (R) $400 million budget surplus. According to the WSJ, it “proves” the efficacy of the Republican approach, and reminds federal policymakers to “employ the Virginia strategy.”

In his ridiculous economic speech today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) also singled out Bob McDonnell for praise, noting how impressive it was to see the Virginia Republican “balance his state’s budget … without raising taxes.”

McDonnell himself has started patting himself on the back. Last week, he stopped by the Fox Business Network to boast about the greatness of his “conservative, fiscal, practical approach” to budgeting. McDonnell added his way is a model for reducing the “dependence of people on government.” Fox Business described it as “an amazing story.”

So amazing, in fact, that it deserves a closer look. Indeed, there’s a key detail about Virginia’s surplus that Republican leaders and their media outlets hope you’ll overlook.

Gov. Bob McDonnell decries rising federal spending, but a handout from Washington is helping him balance Virginia’s cash-strapped budget, a fiscal think tank says.

If not for $2.5 billion from President Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus program, the state’s shortfall would have swelled from more than $4 billion to nearly $5.5 billion, according to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

Michael J. Cassidy, institute president, said yesterday that the federal aid helped shrink the hole by 16 percent, allowing Virginia — at the height of the recession — to avert “further cuts to key areas like health care, education and public safety.”

For all the Republican praise of McDonnell and criticism of President Obama, this gang neglects to mention that McDonnell’s budget surplus likely wouldn’t exist were it not for Obama’s help.

What’s more, also note that while McDonnell depends on the dreaded federal government to pay his bills, he’s also playing budget games to make his surplus look bigger than it is, accelerating how the sales tax would count and borrowing from public-worker pension system.

And best of all, the focus is on the wrong metric. McDonnell is receiving praise, not for creating jobs or generating economic growth, but for balancing a budget (which wouldn’t be balanced were it not for Obama). But eliminating deficits shouldn’t be the goal — boosting the economy should be the top priority. Republicans are excited about an accomplishment that doesn’t matter.

In this case, McDonnell has eyed moves that don’t help the economy at all, including putting more state workers out of work, and “slashing services for children and the sick.”

Republicans consider this “an amazing story.” That’s not the adjective I’d use.

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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.