THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Brown pauses, then backs Republican repeal effort

By last night, Scott Brown promised to vote against the Democrats’ health care reconciliation package . He said his earlier remarks were mischaracterized. By last night, Scott Brown promised to vote against the Democrats’ health care reconciliation package . He said his earlier remarks were mischaracterized.
By Matt Viser and David Abel
Globe Staff / March 23, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

WASHINGTON — As his fellow Republicans girded to oppose health care legislation in the Senate this week and readied a nationwide repeal effort, Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown said yesterday that he was not ready to join those efforts and was keeping his options open.

By last night, Brown had clarified his position, promising to vote against the Democrats’ health care reconciliation package and pledging to support GOP repeal efforts. He said his earlier remarks were mischaracterized.

“I’m going to repeal it because it’s bad for our state,’’ Brown declared last night in a phone interview.

It was a surprising stutter-step for the former state lawmaker, who vaulted into the US Senate and became a national GOP phenomenon precisely because of his strong attacks on President Obama’s health care proposals. Unwavering opposition to the legislation has been a centerpiece of his political repertoire.

So it appeared to be a softening after Brown, approached by reporters in Boston yesterday, punted when asked whether he planned to oppose the Democrats’ health care budget reconciliation bill in the Senate.

“I have to see what they are proposing. I’m heading back to get briefed. I think everyone is fighting fiercely, and I’m going to fight fiercely for jobs in Massachusetts,’’ Brown said.

Asked if that meant there was a possibility he would vote in favor of the reconciliation package, Brown replied: “I haven’t read it yet. I want to be able to read it first.’’

The reconciliation bill has been a target of Republican ire for weeks.

It contains a variety of fixes to the overall health care bill that President Obama is scheduled to sign into law today. Democrats are resorting to reconciliation, which allows passage of measures with a simple majority instead of a 60-vote supermajority required to break a filibuster, because Brown’s election to replace the late Edward M. Kennedy gave the GOP a 41st vote.

Also in his earlier remarks yesterday to reporters, Brown demurred on the question of repealing the sweeping law that is supposed to expand coverage to an additional 32 million Americans.

“In order to repeal it, you need to see what’s in fact going to be in place. I think that’s a little premature,’’ said Brown, who was questioned by several reporters outside a fishing-regulation meeting in Boston. “I want to see what’s going to be in play.’’

A political ally and mentor of Brown’s, Senator John McCain of Arizona, is among the leading advocate for repeals. Asked for clarification about his position later, a spokeswoman for Brown edged closer to the idea of repeal, while still leaving some wiggle room: “Brown believes that there should absolutely be an opportunity to repeal it.’’

Without mentioning specifics of reconciliation or repeal, Brown’s rhetoric was sharper during an appearance yesterday on WEEI-AM, when he encouraged listeners to call their senators to complain, predicted that attorneys general would challenge the constitutionality of the bill, and argued that it would hurt Massachusetts.

“This bill will clearly hurt our jobs,’’ Brown said on the radio. “And we will lose a lot of jobs here in Massachusetts. We will have lesser coverage, and longer lines. And I just don’t know how we’re going to pay for all this.’’

Wavering by Brown on health care would carry national significance and could hurt his standing among conservatives around the country.

Brown’s candidacy electrified the Republican Party and galvanized conservatives across the country who poured millions of dollars into his upset campaign.

But he has disappointed some core party members since joining the Senate, particularly when he crossed party lines and voted in favor of a $15 billion Senate bill to create jobs.

On health care, conservatives are gearing up for a major fight after the House vote Sunday. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is planning to file legislation to repeal the law, and McCain sent out a plea to supporters yesterday saying, “I assure you I am not quitting our fight. I believe we must repeal this bill immediately.’’ Republican representatives Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota and Steve King of Iowa posted on Twitter saying they planned to fight to repeal it.

“This bill is so deeply unpopular that the voters in the most liberal state in the country just elected a Republican to the Senate for the first time in nearly four decades in order to stop it,’’ Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday on the Senate floor. “Democrats want to pretend this didn’t happen. . . . Well, they’re living in a fantasy. And, today that fantasy becomes even more absurd.’’

Brown made the remarks about studying the legislation in an interview at the Boston Fish Pier, after he and other lawmakers including Senator John F. Kerry, a Democrat, attended a meeting with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco.

Aides later insisted the comments did not represent a shift, saying he remained opposed to the health care plan but simply wanted to review the legislation.

“Senator Brown has been very clear that he opposes the trillion dollars in spending, the billions of dollars in tax increases and enormous financial burden it will put on Massachusetts businesses,’’ Brown’s communications director, Gail Gitcho, said in a statement. “Plain and simple, this bill will hurt jobs and the economy in the Commonwealth and Senator Brown believes that there should absolutely be an opportunity to repeal it.’’

Throughout his US Senate campaign, Brown railed against the Democrats plan for health care expansion with his proclamation that he would be the 41st Republican senator who could block it becoming a mantra for his supporters.

He signed “#41’’ with his signature.

Since arriving in Washington, Brown has continued to criticize the national health care plan, saying it is bad for Americans and that it provides little benefit for Massachusetts, which has expanded health care coverage on a state level.

He has said that Democrats were ignoring the messages that Massachusetts residents sent by voting for him to fill the seat long occupied by Kennedy, who made health care expansion his life’s work.

But the next few days could be a turning point for Brown, as he decides how to define himself in the wake of the Republicans’ defeat on the issue.

“The horse he rode into the Senate has been put out to pasture. What’s act two going to be?’’ said Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont who specializes in congressional politics. “Basically, his reason for running is over.’’

Still, Republicans are planning to run aggressively against the health care plan in the upcoming mid-term elections, and Brown could play a prominent role.

“The Massachusetts election sent a stunningly clear signal that the Democrats have decided to ignore,’’ said Whit Ayres, a Virginia-based Republican consultant and pollster. “That keeps Senator Brown very relevant as a national figure.’’

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.