The tempting of Scott Brown 

After he managed to pull off the unexpected by capturing a senate seat from Massachusetts, Scott Brown has continued to remain the focus of much attention, particularly of the White House and Democrats who are both trying to influence his votes and also copy him as much as possible. Writing at the New Republic, Noam Scheiber expresses some of the frustration Democrats are having with Brown:

He is nonetheless self-aware enough to realize that he is uniquely well-positioned to influence policy in Congress. “So, last night I got off the plane … and then Tim Geithner calls me on the phone,” he said in a recent radio interview. “He just called me a minute ago, too. … Obviously, I am the key vote.”

In fact, Brown is almost certainly understating his influence. As the 41st Republican in an institution that requires 60 out of 100 votes to pass legislation, he’s had the power to stop, or at least massively slow down, everything from health care to financial reform. But Brown actually looms much larger than even this calculus would suggest. In his concerns, priorities, and, maybe most important, his confusion about the economy, Brown has come to represent the average voter in 2010. If Democrats are going to be successful this November, they’ll have to figure out a way to seize the territory that Brown currently holds.

Of course, should Brown indeed vote for the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill like he has hinted he would, it will mean that Republicans and conservatives will have to more strenuously begin courting his vote the way they have to with Maine’s two GOP senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Brown thus far has proven more conservative, especially than Snowe, however.

Much of Brown’s holding of the line has been in part thanks to an embrace of deficit reduction policies and rhetoric, a position that has proven highly popular to the great dissastisfaction of the left. Scheiber’s dismay is palpable:

Perhaps most intriguingly of all, Brown has sometimes exploited anxiety about jobs as a reason to oppose … jobs-related legislation. In doing so, he’s picked up on a paradox that defines the political zeitgeist: Even though Americans are more concerned about jobs than anything else, they don’t seem to appreciate the factors that help create them. In the same NBC poll in which voters overwhelmingly say jobs should be the government’s top priority, they also say, by nearly a two-to-one margin, that they’d prefer the government attend to the deficit even if it delays the economic recovery. So, according to the poll, voters care much more about jobs than the deficit, but much more about the deficit than the economy. Where exactly are the jobs supposed to come from?  [...]

In mid-March, he hatched the idea of opposing an extension of jobless benefits unless it was paid for using stimulus money. Translated into reality, the position amounts to the following: Brown refuses to help the jobless unless we pay for it with money that’s been allocated to create new jobs. But Brown has managed to sell this dubious logic as something completely different: Take money that’s being wasted, or worse—Brown shrewdly refers to not-yet-spent stimulus money as a “slush fund”—and re-route it to jobless benefits.

Alas, Brown’s position is currently carrying the day in the Senate, where Democrats couldn’t muster the 60 votes they needed to pass another extension of unemployment benefits before the Fourth of July recess. As a result, some 2 million people missed benefit checks they’d been counting on. It’s a massively frustrating state of affairs.

Should Brown actually vote for Dodd-Frank and other policy priorities of Democrats, expect people on the center-right to start expressing similar dissatisfaction with Brown.

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Matthew Sheffield

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