One thing the White House really wanted to reset with the debate over the American Jobs Act is that they’re not negotiating over it. The Administration has clearly taken a beating in public opinion over constant negotiations and backroom talks that end in unsatisfying agreements. So the message they wanted to get across was that they offered a jobs bill, and now Congress should pass it. Here’s David Axelrod delivering that message on Good Morning America today:

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.

But Axelrod no longer works in the White House. He’s working on the 2012 election, and their strategy is to use the American Jobs Act as a political document to draw contrast. Inside the White House, the buck stops with the President. And he signaled today in a roundtable with Hispanic journalists that he would be fine with a partial bill:

President Barack Obama is making a strong push for his $447 billion jobs bill, but at the same time he’s acknowledging what many observers believe: that Congress may not pass it in full.

“Obviously if they pass parts of it I’m not going to veto those parts,” Mr. Obama said Monday in a roundtable interview with Hispanic journalists. “I will sign it but I will say then ‘give me the rest’, and I will keep on making that argument as long as the need is there to put people back to work.”

So you see where this is going, then. The tax offsets to “pay for” the bill? Gone. The spending measures, including billions for infrastructure like high speed rail? Bye-bye. The laudatory proposal to ban job discrimination against the unemployed? Na ga happen. Republicans will indeed treat the bill like an a la carte menu, pick off things they like (maybe the free internship program modeled on Georgia Works, some of the tax cuts for business, who knows what else), pair it with a couple anti-regulatory pieces, and build an ineffective jobs package that the President will have no choice but to sign.

This completely undercuts the message that Axelrod and multiple other Administration officials had been delivering for a week. And I think that John Larson is right:

Other members of the Democratic leadership, though, are unwilling to break up the proposal. Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said a piecemeal strategy would damage Congress’s reputation further.

“The public perceives that as kicking the can down the road, and not stepping up,” Larson said Friday during a short news briefing. “[Obama’s] got a plan. He’s laid it out there. What is the problem with voting it up or down?

The Administration is trying to cast this as a “yes-and” strategy, saying that the President would sign the piecemeal bill and then push for additional steps. And it’s true that the entire package as a unit cannot pass, and that taking what you can get makes some amount of intuitive sense.

As a political matter, it doesn’t make much sense to telegraph that now, in the middle of a broad campaign to force passage of the bill. It cuts the legs out of the outside game strategy and shows that the push is half-hearted at best.

David Dayen

David Dayen