WASHINGTON – As Republicans are mounting plans to repeal the health care legislation -- and girding for battle in the Senate over a series of changes -- Senator Scott Brown is so far not immediately jumping on the bandwagon despite his well-established opposition to President Obama's health care overhaul.
Instead, Brown is keeping his options open in the wake of a Republican defeat, saying he wants time to study the bills and was noncommittal over whether he would vote against it.
When asked today if it was possible that he would vote for the so-called reconciliation package that the Senate will debate this week, Brown said, "I haven't read it yet. I want to be able to read it first."
The legislation was released on Thursday and has been virtually the only topic anyone in Congress has talked about for weeks.
Brown also said initially that he is not yet ready to join some of his Republican colleagues in an effort to repeal the health care bill that President Obama will sign today.
"I think that's a little premature," he said, when asked whether he would try to repeal the legislation. "I want to see what's going to be in play." A spokeswoman for Brown later said, "Brown believes that there should absolutely be an opportunity to repeal it."
Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is already planning to file legislation to repeal the law, and Senator John McCain of Arizona sent out a plea to supporters today 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, both sent out messages 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 today 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."
While Brown may simply be trying to keep his options open ahead of a tumultuous week in Washington, his soft rhetoric is striking given that he campaigned so aggressively against the new law during his special election.
Brown's rheotric was sharper during an apperance on WEEI-AM, where he encouraged listeners to call their senators to complain, predicted that attorneys general would challenge the constitutionality of the bill, and aruged that it would hurt Massachusetts.
“This bill will clearly hurt our jobs,” Brown said on the radio show. “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.”
Brown made the remarks to the Globe at the Boston Fish Pier, after he and other lawmakers attended a meeting with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco.
"I have to see what they're proposing," Brown said, when asked if he would fight it in the Senate. "I'm heading back to get briefed. I think everyone is fighting fiercely, and I'm going to fight fiercely for jobs in Massachusetts, and the medical device companies. We're talking about 22,000 jobs that could be severely affected in Massachusetts."
He then got into a rented red Chrysler Sebring (the truck, he said, was in Washington). Aides later said 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."
The debate this week could also be an early test of the relationship between Brown and the state's senior senator, John Kerry.
Kerry is among those who signed a letter that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delivered to House Democrats over the weekend, pledging to pass the fixes that the House wanted. That process could get messy, and Kerry's commitment could play an important role.
"Let's get the job done," Kerry said today at Fish Pier. "I believe this is an historic, critical moment for our country. We are now about to be no longer the only developed nation in the world that doesn't help provide affordable access and insurance to all of our citizens. We're doing so in a way that reduces the deficit, that will strengthen the Massachusetts system. No one in Massachusetts who receives healthcare today is going to be forced to do something different."
Kerry also said there has been an "enormous amount of misinformation and distortion," and that he planned to come back with the Democratic delegation to "present why this bill is good, and what we believe it does."
"I'm convinced it's good for Massachusetts and for this country," he 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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.