In the "fiscal cliff" standoff, President Barack Obama wants to raise taxes by about $20 billion a year more than House Speaker John Boehner. The president wants to spend about that much more yearly than Boehner does, too.
That's real money by most measures. Yet such numbers are hardly noticeable compared to the $2.6 trillion the government expects to collect in taxes next year, and to the $3.6 trillion it plans to spend.
Going over the "cliff" could bring economy-shaking tax increases and spending cuts that start hitting in early January unless lawmakers act first. Their inability to compromise so far shows that their problem is far more than arithmetic - it's also about the difficult politics that Obama and Boehner face when it comes to lining up votes.