Neither the tax rises proposed by Labour, nor the benefits cuts proposed by the Tories would make a significant dent in the deficit.
Balls has left himself with room to borrow to invest but the party's fiscal rules mean total spending will be falling for almost every year of the next parliament.
The Labour leader's plans for government can factor in the prospect of having Balls as his chancellor, but in a shrunken empire.
Despite being repeatedly pressed by Ed Balls at Treasury questions, the Chancellor refuses to comment on whether the Tories want to reduce the top rate from 45 per cent to 40 per cent.
Is it a temporary tax or a permanent one?
The latest figures from HMRC show that people earning over £150,000 paid almost £10bn more in tax in the three years when the 50p rate was in place. We need to get the deficit down in a fair way.
Unlike Osborne's budget surplus pledge, Balls's only applies to current spending, leaving open the option of borrowing to fund infrastructure.
If the party does borrow for investment after 2015, it will be childcare, jobs and housing that benefit.
It would look presumptive to start naming his cabinet before the election and would put him under pressure to guarantee others their jobs.