White House rebuffs preemptive concessions

I think they’re learning.

We’ve seen, on more than a few occasions, this White House negotiating poorly, entering a political fight by aiming low in the hopes that Republicans will be receptive. What happens, of course, is that GOP officials invariably hate the administration’s plan anyway, make far-right demands, and end up with a “compromise” that’s too far to the right because President Obama and his team started too far from the left.

With the American Jobs Act, the West Wing is, so far, playing it smarter. Greg Sargent flagged this interesting exchange this morning between MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.

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For those who can’t watch videos online, the host told Pfeiffer, “So, the bill gets sent to Congress next week. 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?”

The typical response would be something like, “We’re willing to work on a compromise plan” or “We hope to find common ground.”

Instead, the White House communications director said, “Well, no, we’re not assuming that. As the president said last night — he said it 16 times, I’ll say it a 17th here today — he wants them to pass the American Jobs Act. That’s the piece of legislation he’s sending up. It’s a simple thing. Puts the Americans back to work and puts more money in the pockets of working families. And so our belief is that everything 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.”

Good for him. As Greg explained, “In the debt ceiling fight, the White House at first demanded a “clean” extension, only to quickly concede to the GOP demand that it be accompanied by spending cuts. In the days leading up to the construction of the Congressional deficit super-committee, Democrats immediately signaled an openness to negotiate on their core priorities, even as Republicans drew a hard line and said they wouldn’t budge on their principles. But this time — for now, at least — the usual dynamic seems to be reversed.”

Obviously, no one seriously expects Congress to simply take the American Jobs Act and pass it, word for word. If there were Democratic supermajorities in both chambers, that still wouldn’t happen, and in 2011, we see a House led by a radicalized Republican Party, and a dysfunctional Senate that blocks every bill of significance.

But when it comes to setting the stage for a fight, the White House finally seems to realize that firm stands lead to better results, and preemptive concessions don’t.