‘It’s not an a la carte menu’

After a few too many instances in which the White House used poor negotiating strategies, President Obama and his team appear to be fighting for the American Jobs Act with a very different — and far more aggressive — approach.

This was evident in the president’s speech, during which he said, over and over again, “pass this bill,” not “I look forward to talking to Speaker Boehner.” It was equally evident a day later when MSNBC’s Chuck Todd asked White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, “Are you guys assuming that it gets sort of piecemealed, that at the end of the day you’re going to get some of what you want but not all of what you want?” Instead of saying, “We’re willing to work on a compromise plan,” Pfeiffer replied, “Well, no, we’re not assuming that…. [E]verything in this bill is reasonable. Everything in the bill has bipartisan support. Everything will have an effect right now. And so we want them to pass it.”

This morning, Greg Sargent flagged this interesting exchange from “Good Morning America” between ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and Obama senior adviser David Axelrod.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it all or nothing?

AXELROD: The President has a package. The package works together. We need to do many things to get this economy moving and people back to work, not just one thing. Tokenism isn’t enough. We want them to pass the plan. The American people want them to pass the plan. We don’t want to play games. We don’t want to engage in brinkmanship. We want to put people back to work. This package will do that. They ought to act now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So it’s all or nothing?

AXELROD: We want them to act now on this package. We’re not in a negotiation to break up the package. It’s not an a la carte menu. It is a strategy to get this country moving.

Even the question presupposes that White House officials are supposed to preemptively compromise, effectively negotiating with themselves before Republicans have offered anything in the way of a substantive response.

To their credit, Axelrod, like Pfeiffer last week, isn’t playing the game. It took too long, but this team has clearly learned — there’s nothing to be gained from taking weak negotiating stances from the outset.

Of course, this has left House Republican leaders in the unusual role of talking up the benefits of compromise. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), of all people, said the other day, “I do not think that the president’s all-or-nothing approach is something that is constructive.”

Given that Cantor has traditionally defined “compromise” as “give me everything I want,” the irony is rich.