Even before House Speaker John Boehner moved away from his own fiscal talks by unveiling his "Plan B," there was an important sticking point in his talks with President Obama.
As far as the White House was concerned, Obama offered a very credible, entirely balanced third offer: a package that contained $1.2 trillion in new revenue and $1.22 trillion spending cuts. Boehner's office, looking at the exact same figures, said the president was proposing $1.3 trillion in revenue and $930 billion in spending cuts.
How can officials look at the same numbers on the same page and see entirely different results? The underlying dispute has to do with interest payments on the national debt. As Obama and his team see it, their fiscal approach would require less borrowing, which in turn would produce significant savings (roughly $290 billion) in the form of lower interest on the debt.
Congressional Republicans, as of yesterday, are insisting this is an accounting trick, and Obama can't justifiably count interest savings as "spending cuts." And while one can certainly make the case that the GOP line has merit, there's a problem: these same Republicans have already argued the exact opposite.
House Republicans have repeatedly used the same arithmetic to beef up the size of proposed spending cuts that they oppose now that President Barack Obama is using it. [...]
Republicans have employed this very same tool -- counting the billions saved from not having to borrow billions more -- to pad the size of deficit reduction, sometimes to placate their own restless base.
The accounting measure is even part of the Paul Ryan budget plan, which Republicans not only supported en mass, but which Boehner used as a model just last week.
GOP leaders can't pretend interest savings count, but only when it suits their purposes.