WASHINGTON -- The Obama White House is revising its initial unwillingness to negotiate on the president's job creation plan, saying now that if individual components of the bill came to the president's desk -- as opposed to the bill in its entirety -- he would sign them into law.
The new approach opens up the administration to charges that it no longer views the American Jobs Act as a take-it-or-leave-it bill. But in a briefing with reporters Tuesday, senior administration officials insisted President Obama wasn't backing off his position that he wants the entire bill passed through Congress.
If lawmakers sent Obama legislation that would, say, send money to the states to rehire teachers, he would sign it and push for Congress to pass the remainder of his suggested reforms. As one of those senior administration officials put it, it would be politically suicidal to veto a bill that creates 1 million jobs just because it doesn't create 2 million jobs.
The less-than-absolutist stance contrasts with remarks made in television appearances earlier Tuesday morning by Obama adviser David Axelrod, who insisted that the president wasn't interested in negotiations "to break up the package."
"It's not an a la carte menu," Axelrod said.
It also runs against the position that top White House economic adviser Gene Sperling seemingly pushed Tuesday morning when he told reporters at a job forum that the president's focus remains "getting the full positive economic impact" of his jobs proposal into law.
"I think what the president said was, if Congress chose to pass a portion of the American Jobs Act, he would just keep coming back and pushing and pushing to pass all of the measures because we think each element is critical to the type of job growth and economic momentum this recovery needs," said Sperling.
Sperling did note that the administration's primary "push is to pass the American Jobs Act in its entirety as a single bill" but that if portions of the American Jobs Act were passed alone, the president's view "would be that that was partial progress and that he was going to come back and fight and fight and fight to get the other components through."
“Our strong preference is to do it as a single bill, but that ultimately goal is to get those measures past," he said. "And I think, again, the President spoke yesterday and said if he was presented with parts of his plan his instinct would be not to reject things he favored but to come back and keep fight and fighting to get the entire program.”
Whether or not moving away from a take-it-or-leave-it approach hurts the administration's negotiating position with Congress is unclear. House Republicans have argued that they would only push pieces of the plan. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), on Tuesday called it "troubling" that Obama would press Congress to pass the whole jobs package in the first place.
"His message of, 'It is all or nothing, take it or leave it, pass my plan' -- that's not just the way that anything works, and certainly not the way Washington works," Cantor said during remarks at an American Action Forum event. "We've been there done that for the last eight months."
By acknowledging that Obama is willing to sign off on individual components of his bill, the administration does appear to be inviting Republicans to take action on their preferred provisions -- such as extending the payroll tax cut or providing tax relief for small businesses -- and punt on the others.
Senior administration officials insisted that they had not hurt their standing at the negotiation table, noting that each component of the president's proposal is popular in its own right.
"Pocketing a win and continuing to push is different than agreeing to a smaller compromise and calling it a day," emailed one administration ally. "I don't think this is really a situation where one part is the leverage and the other is the meat (and they can therefore get away with taking the leverage off the table)."
Sperling noted that some components of the president's approach are intertwined, meaning that lawmakers would have to pass them as a package to achieve any practical benefit. If Congress wants to institute a volunteer work system in which prospective employees are paid through federal unemployment benefits, for example, it must begin by authorizing those additional unemployment benefits.
Moving away from the absolutist approach may signal the administration is simply bowing to legislative realities. There are few paths to passage for the jobs bill, save attaching it to the congressional super committee's set of recommendations. But in the Tuesday briefing, the senior administration officials made clear they would prefer to get some job-creation legislation passed before those committee recommendations come to a vote at the end of December.
But without control of the House, Democrats can't force a vote on a complete American Jobs Act bill, meaning the White House could be looking at either an a la carte menu, or no dinner at all.
This piece was updated with additional reporting