WASHINGTON -- Senator Scott Brown came into office as a shiny political trophy for Republicans, who calculated that the GOP Massachusetts lawmaker would be their critical vote to stop Democratic initiatives. But today, Brown delivered for the Democrats, giving them an important vote to advance a jobs bill President Obama and his party desperately want.
The freshman Bay State Republican joined four of his GOP colleagues in voting to break a filibuster on the $15 billion bill, allowing the Senate to move ahead towards a final vote.
But it also represented a critical psychological break for the Senate, which has been mired in bitter partisan fights over everything from the massive health care package to noncontroversial presidential nominations.
"I think he and I are going to do a lot of music together,'' said Senator George Voinovich, a moderate Ohio Republican who also voted to advance the jobs package.
"I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside, and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families,'' Brown said in a statement explaining his vote. "All of us, Republicans and Democrats, have to work together to get our economy back on track. I hope my vote today is a strong step toward restoring bipartisanship in Washington.''
Brown said the bill -- which would give a break on Social Security taxes to employers who hire the jobless -- is "not perfect.'' But "I voted for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work,'' Brown said.
When the Massachusetts seat was held by the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and then by Paul Kirk, Kennedy's temporary replacement until Brown was elected in January, Democrats had, at least in theory, the 60 votes needed to break GOP filibusters.
Brown's upset election ended that possibility, forcing Democratic leaders to woo Republicans to get bills approved or even voted on in the Senate. Yesterday, Brown became just one of those Republicans, joining Voinovich, Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Missouri Republican Senator Kit Bond to move the bill ahead. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson was the only Democrat to vote against cloture on the jobs package.
On the Senate's first day back after a holiday and snow-day recess, Brown was already on the floor when the roll call was begun, and became the first vote on the first roll call of the week.
His alacrity -- unusual in a chamber where senators routinely wander about, chatting with colleagues and ignoring the calling of their names until the last minute -- displayed both freshman eagerness and seasoned political smarts. When lawmakers decide to vote against their leadership, it is wise to vote quickly and leave the chamber before anyone can pressure them to switch their votes.
Brown spoke with leadership in both parties before he cast his vote, said spokesman Colin Reed. And Democrats, who have been fighting nonstop with the minority party, were delighted.
"I hope this is the beginning of a new day here in the Senate, whether this new day was created by the new senator from Massachusetts or some other reason, I'm very, very happy that we were able to get this done,'' Senate majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said on the floor after the vote.
The measure would extend the Social Security tax break to eligible employers through December, and give an extra $1,000 per employee credit if the worker stays on the job for a year or more. The measure also includes an extension of popular highway programs.
The jobs bill is a scaled-back version of a $174 billion package the House approved in December, and is also significantly smaller than a Senate measure being floated by a bipartisan team of lawmakers. But leaders believe they are more likely to win approval of incremental items on a jobs agenda.
Snowe said she hoped that the vote was the beginning of more bipartisan cooperation in the senate, but added that Democrats needed to offer a hand of cooperation as well.
"We represent diverse political constituencies'' in New England, Snowe said. "Frankly, I think we have been so driven here by red and blue states rather than focusing on what matters for America.''
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and chairman of the national Republican Senatorial Committee, said Brown didn't upset the GOP leadership with his vote.
"This was a procedural vote. There was no sort of insistence by leadership that this was a place where we plant our flag or make our stand,'' Cornyn said.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.