In February, when I asked Senator Sheldon Whitehouse if his "Buffett Rule" bill raising taxes on the wealthy was a mere political stunt, he insisted that he had a real plan for passage. One element of that plan: bring up the legislation for a vote over and over again, as a way to pressure the Republicans into passage. The method, he said, had been pivotal to passage of the financial reform bill last year.
Last week, on a panel at the Netroots Nation conference in Providence, Whitehouse suggested he would use a similar strategy to win passage of the Disclose Act, which would require faster, more comprehensive reporting on who's behind the sort of SuperPAC ads that played such a big role in the GOP presidential primaries. And he gave the approach a nifty name: the Jericho strategy (for all you the heathens: the Bible has Joshua marching around the city of Jericho every day for seven days before attacking and utterly destroying it).
It seems, in a way, a strategy perfectly tuned to the moment: brutal, intensely partisan, designed to conquer our short attention spans.
But can it work? As Whitehouse himself has argued, the approach can only succeed if it is accompanied by significant public pressure. Hence, a request that Netroots bloggers agree to an overnight blogathon when Senator Whitehouse and his comrades stage an up-all-night action of their own next month in support of the bill.
By the end of the panel, a group of bloggers had already pledged to back the senator, joined on stage by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon). But it's far from clear that campaign finance reform can grab public attention in the way that financial reform did after the 2008 meltdown.
The Buffett Rule, though? Joshua might have something to teach here. The measure is pretty sexy on its own (who would've thunk it, Warren Buffett as hottie?). And with the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, Whitehouse will be glomming onto a high-profile debate around taxes, deficits, and the basic role of the federal government. He should, in short, get a wee bit of attention.
Will that be enough to sway the GOP, though?
Matt Yglesias at Slate is skeptical that Democrats can win the broader Bush tax cuts fight (i.e. keep tax cuts for the poor and middle class in place and raise them on the rich) on clever messaging alone. He says Dems should let the Bush tax cuts expire, then use the higher taxes as leverage to get the deal they want. (UPDATE: Whitehouse, himself, seemed to suggest this could work in an interview with David Dayen of lefty blog firedoglake.)
The Dems may, indeed, be in a stronger position after the tax cuts expire. But in the meantime, the GOP gets to say Democrats raised your taxes. And if Republicans don't agree to a deal after said expiration, they get to keep saying it.
Enough incentive, it seems, for Democrats to try to negotiate something pre-expiration - the Buffett Rule included, perhaps.