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Yvonne Abraham

Scott Brown’s golden touch

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / July 1, 2010

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Now more than ever, it truly rocks to be Scott Brown.

The freshman US Senator, a Republican, is this blue state’s most beloved politician — more popular than even the president, according to a Globe poll this week. Our pollster didn’t ask how Brown’s favorables compare to God’s, but my bet is it would be a pretty close call.

And though it hardly seems possible, Brown is even more popular in Washington than he is here. His phones ring night and day: Everybody — the Treasury secretary, Arnold Schwarzenegger, House and Senate leaders, jobless workers — has been begging him to support their causes.

Five months on the job, and already he’s parting legislative seas.

With all of that love and power, you can’t blame Brown for getting a big head. And as an interview he gave two of his fans on WEEI last Friday made clear, it is pretty darned big.

“So, last night I got off the plane and I’m driving through Wrentham saying, ‘Man, I just can’t believe I’m a United States Senator,’ ’’ he crowed to his adoring interlocutors. “And then Tim Geithner calls me on the phone and says, ‘Scott, I just wanted to go through some things that we’re working on right now . . .’ He just called me a minute ago, too . . .

“Obviously, I am the key vote. They know they have to keep me in the loop.’’

No matter what Brown does, he’s a populist hero.

For example, repeatedly voting against an extension of unemployment benefits for laid-off workers, and for extra money to preserve services for the mentally disabled, makes him a hero because he’s holding down the deficit, saving the Average Guy taxes down the line.

Nobody seems to care that lots of folks, including some respected deficit hawks, think that’s a shortsighted, destructive stance in a recession.

“We need stimulus now and restraint later,’’ says Isabel Sawhill, a budget expert at the Brookings Institution. “On strictly economic grounds, it makes sense to extend the payments, otherwise these groups will be a tremendous drag on the economy.’’

Talk to the truck, ma’am.

Or take Brown’s stance on the bill Treasury Secretary Geithner was calling about: A Wall Street reform package aimed at taming the Wild West that is our financial system.

Voters sent Brown to Washington partly because he promised an end to backroom dealing. But it turns out he’s rather an ace at it himself: Holding his vote over Democrats’ heads, he got them to weaken restrictions on the kinds of risky bets that led to the financial crisis.

Having secured that gift for banks and hedge funds, Brown voted for the Senate version of the bill — even though its cost would add to the deficit.

Then, after House and Senate negotiators found another way to pay for the bill — namely, $19 billion in charges imposed on the biggest financial institutions themselves — Brown jumped ship.

He wasn’t protecting banks, Brown said. It’s just a coincidence that they hated the charges. He was looking out for the Little Guy, since the banks would just pass along the $19 billion to customers in higher fees.

It didn’t matter that the new rules would make it harder for banks to raise those fees. And it didn’t matter that any other way of funding the new system would also use taxpayer money, only more directly.

Brown’s balk was praised as another heroic, populist move. It sent 43 legislators sprinting back to a conference committee to come up with another way to pay for the bill: They’re now proposing to use leftover bank bailout money — taxpayers’ money, of course. Brown doesn’t know if he likes that either. He says he needs the July Fourth recess to decide whether to vote for the Wall Street reforms.

But he needn’t lose any sleep. Whatever he decides, Scott Brown can do no wrong.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.

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