Picking and choosing from the American Jobs Act

As part of the White House’s rollout for the American Jobs Act, President Obama and his team have been fairly consistent when it comes to messaging: “pass this bill.” There haven’t been any explicit veto threats, but when asked about breaking up the economic package, officials tend to say there’s no need — this is a good plan with popular ideas that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.

As David Axelrod put it this week, in reference to members of Congress, “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.”

Yesterday, House GOP leaders sketched out a response in a new memo. Wouldn’t you know it, Republicans aren’t inclined to embrace the whole package, as is.

House Republican leaders rejected some main elements of President Obama’s jobs plan on Friday but told their rank-and-file members that they would support other components. Approvals ranged from the well-publicized parts, like an extension of the payroll tax holiday, to the more obscure, like continuing depreciation write-offs for businesses.

After a week of gingerly walking the line of conciliation, Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader, sent a letter to their members specifying a few areas where they found common ground with Mr. Obama. […]

“We believe there are areas of common agreement,” the letter said, “and areas worthy of further conversation where agreement, assuming there are good faith discussions, may be possible.”

It’s quite a challenge for the House majority. On the one hand, they want to undercut the president, reject his relatively popular plan, undermine public confidence in political institutions, and hold the economy back until 2013. On the other hand, they don’t want to look like they’re doing any of this. Indeed, they’re being awfully polite, perhaps mindful of the public’s revulsion towards Capitol Hill lately.

So what are we left with? Republicans are largely on board with most of the president’s tax-cut plans. But that’s about it. Aid to state and local governments to prevent layoffs to teachers, police officers, and firefighters? Republicans find this unacceptable, despite strong public support. Funding for school construction and repair? Republicans find this unacceptable, too. In fact, the memo suggested this isn’t even an area the party considers open to negotiation.

And, of course, the GOP refuses to consider tax increases on anyone at any time to pay for anything.

What about infrastructure investments? From the memo:

The President has proposed $50 billion in “immediate” surface transportation funding and the creation of a new $10 billion national infrastructure bank. While spending to repair and improve infrastructure can play an important part in both short- and long-term economic growth, adding more money to the same broken system is more likely to produce waste and inefficiency than meaningful results.

There are more than 100 federal surface transportation programs, many of which are duplicative or do not serve a federal purpose. Before spending new money, for example, we could act to end the mandatory set aside that diverts 10% of current surface transportation funds from roads and bridges to transportation museums and other “enhancements.”

Republicans are open to infrastructure investments just so long as Congress doesn’t actually have to make any investments in infrastructure.

Taken together, we’re not getting a good look at Republicans approach “compromise” in the post debt-ceiling-fiasco era. They’re open to maybe cutting taxes if Obama asks nicely … and that’s about it.

If one were only reading the headlines — “House G.O.P. Leaders Find Some Things to Like About Obama’s Jobs Plan” — the impression might be that yesterday’s memo was a positive development, representing meaningful hints of progress. Maybe, one migh tbe tempted to think, a compromise will come together after all.

A closer look at the details suggests that’s just not the case.