Last week, Democrats in debt-reduction talks focused much of their attention on unnecessary and unpopular tax giveaways. If Republicans want a compromise that cuts the debt without raising tax rates, Dems said, they can start by scrapping tax expenditures that help corporate-jet owners.

The response from GOP leaders was fierce and unyielding. The only way Republicans would even consider ending these tax breaks, they said, is if the savings were applied to other tax breaks. In other words, Republicans opposed the Democratic effort to apply savings to debt reduction — the issue conservatives pretend to care about — because more tax cuts remain the top GOP priority.

Yesterday, President Obama reportedly put this to the test.

Mr. Obama suggested in Thursday’s meeting that leaders end tax breaks for ethanol producers, oil and gas companies and corporate jet owners, and offset those tax increases with an extension of the payroll tax credit for employees, a Democratic official familiar with the meeting said, but Republicans said they would not support it.

This is fascinating. Obama was willing to trade needless tax subsidies, some of which even Republicans don’t like, for a separate tax cut that benefits private employers. This is, as of last week, exactly the kind of deal GOP leaders said they were inclined to support.

But when the president put it on the table, and set up the deal exactly as Republicans want it, they still said no. And remember, a payroll tax cut is the GOP’s preferred approach to job creation.

As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued last week, “If they oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they’re just opposing anything that helps create jobs. It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.”

This is the whole point of the “sabotage” question. The argument isn’t that Republicans have conservative ideas about helping the economy. Questioning their motivations on this alone would be foolish. The point, rather, is that Republicans have begun rejecting their own ideas about helping the economy, even after Obama presented their idea in the way they requested it.

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Steve Benen

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.