Earlier today I wrote about why Elizabeth Warren will be a great US Senator.
Now I’ll add what I think is essential about the alternative, Scott Brown. His campaign hasn’t made clear what his real priorities are, but a few telling instances from his short time in the Senate make it easy to see.
Perhaps most illuminating is the time Senator Brown found himself in the very enviable position of being the key swing vote on a crucial, high profile piece of legislation: Wall Street reform. But I’ll start by looking at the end of the 2010 Senate session, when Scott Brown joined Republicans in yet another filibuster.
The Senate was considering a flurry of important legislation at the end of the year, including:
- Extending unemployment benefits due to the recession
- Health care coverage for 9/11 relief workers
- A new START treaty with Russia on nuclear arms reduction
- The DREAM Act to protect children whose parents brought them to the US without documentation when they were young
- Extending tax cuts on income below $250,000/year
- Ending the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy discriminating against LGBT people
Republicans filibustered everything for one stated reason: Democrats didn’t want to keep Bush’s tax cuts on income above $250,000/year. With such a short time left in the session, it seemed quite likely that this filibuster might prevent all or most of the above from passing.
Scott Brown joined Republicans, not because he opposed most of those goals (as some Republicans did). If we’re to take him at his word, Brown was in favor of health care for 9/11 workers, tax cuts for the middle class, and extending unemployment benefits. He voted for START, and though he waffled frustratingly on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell over the year, he voted for its repeal.
Scott Brown’s filibuster was a very clear statement: keeping taxes on high wealth at 35% rather than 39.6% was more important than all of the above put together! It doesn’t matter here whether you think he was right or wrong about the tax rate; even if you believe 35% is the better top marginal income tax rate, can you imagine considering it so critically important that you’d block votes on everything on that list just to get it?
Now consider Wall Street reform. A priority for the President, and the votes had lined up to this: with Brown’s vote, it would pass; without his vote, it would fail.
This is the kind of situation where a legislator shows what matters to them, because they can ask, within reason, for any change they want in the bill short of ruining it. They can get their wish list. Remember when Congressman Capuano made himself one of the few swing votes on the health care reform compromise between the House and Senate? Capuano used his position to protect funding for teaching hospitals, expand funding for Massachusetts hospitals serving poor communities, and adjustments to the federal law to balance out against penalizing Massachusetts for having already achieved near-universal coverage. We can clearly see what some of Capuano’s health care priorities are.
[ Note: Scott Brown's first high profile vote in the Senate was to vote against health care reconciliation, which contained all of the things Capuano added. Fortunately it passed despite Brown's opposition.]
What did Brown ask for in exchange for his vote for Wall Street reform? What was his wish list?
Brown got Congress to remove a tax on banks with over $50 billion in assets that would’ve been used to pay for some of the reforms, and to punch some loopholes in the Volcker rule that tries to separate consumer banking from financial speculation. In other words, Brown’s wish list was to allow giant financial corporations to make higher profits.
The changes Brown forced into the reform bill were not fatal, but that’s not the point. Again, it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with his amendments. The point is that Brown could’ve asked for anything, and what he really cared about most was this: higher profits for the largest financial firms.
When, later that year, Brown joined a filibuster that declared that keeping taxes on the wealthy a few percent lower was more important than nuclear arms control, equality for LGBT members of the military, keeping taxes lower on the middle class, the DREAM Act, keeping taxes lower for the not-wealthy, health care for 9/11 workers, and unemployment payments to American workers hit by the financial crisis, he was being consistent.
Scott Brown may vote on, and talk about, many things, but what he’s really in the US Senate for is to fight for higher profits for the already-rich. That’s who he works for, and that’s what is most important to him. His record proves it.