WASHINGTON – Senator Scott Brown tonight delivered a feisty floor speech, imploring his colleagues to put greater emphasis on the economy and chiding Democrats for what he considers to be unwarranted diversions.
“We spent seven days on food safety!” the Massachusetts Republican said, referring to a bill approved earlier in the day. “Listen, I love to eat like the next guy, but give me a break! We should have spent seven days working on the one thing that the people in November sent a very powerful message -- and that is getting our economy moving again. Focusing on jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Brown delivered the speech as he attempted a compromise on extending unemployment benefits that expire tomorrow. His compromise involved using unobligated federal funds to pay for the cost of extending the benefits – a proposal that was included yesterday in an unrelated bill that failed despite support from 21 Democrats.
But Democrats largely argue that the unemployment benefits are so dire that they should be extended without offsetting the cost. Republicans say they should only be extended if they don’t add to the deficit.
“I have complete and total sympathy and understanding, and I want to help,” Brown said of those whose unemployment benefits could expire. “More than anybody here, I want to help. But to just keep throwing money that’s not paid for at a problem…makes no sense to me.”
“Are we going to do it from the bank account, or are we going to put it on the credit card?" he added. "I know what I want to do. I’ll use the bank account. Let’s use money that’s already in the system and put it to good use immediately, by 12 o’clock tonight. Let’s do it!”
Under Senate rules, Brown’s proposal would have needed unanimous approval, but it failed because one senator – Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island – objected. Brown also cast the lone objection to Reed's motion to extend unemployment benefits without offsetting the cost.
“My colleague from Massachusetts has made a rather vigorous and passionate statement,” Reed said. “What I sense, though, is that he’s quite willing to put $700 billion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans on the credit card, but not extend unemployment benefits -- as we have done decade after decade -- without offsets.”
Brown supports extending tax cuts for everyone – and without including a method of payment for them – while Democrats want the tax cuts to continue only for those who make less than $250,000. Those tax cuts, approved under the Bush administration, are set to expire at the end of the year.
A Democratic proposal to extend the unemployment benefits failed tonight under Republican opposition. Democrats vowed to keep bringing the proposal up, and would make it retroactive to cover those whose unemployment checks run out.
“Small businesses and economists believe that extending unemployment insurance is smart policy that will help boost our economy,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said tonight in a statement. “The money gets spent, generating economic activity and helping create jobs. But that appears to be lost on my Republican colleagues, who would rather focus on passing massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everything else.”
Brown's speech was meandering at times, and included mentions that he eats "regularly" in Federal Hill section of Providence, and that "it's a good year to die" because there is no federal estate tax this year, due to a quirk in the law.
"I need to take a breath here," he said at one point. "I'm sorry."
Toward the end, he said more should be done on job creation, and said he was willing to stay in Washington.
“Hey, you want to stay here through the holidays and everything?” he said. “Hey, I’m here. Whatever. My kids are grown up, they do their own thing anyway. Do I want to stay here? Sure, I will stay here. Madam president, we’ll go out, we can celebrate Christmas here. Whatever. But we have so many things we need to do.”
The "madam president" was a reference to Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat from North Carolina, who was controlling debate at the time.
Multiple times, he referenced the food safety bill that attempts to strengthen safety laws, as well as making it easier to find the source of food contamination outbreak. Brown supported the law, but said it was the wrong thing to focus on during a down economy.
"We do food safety? Are you kidding me?" he said. "People deserve better.”
“What’s next?” Brown continued. “Let me see. Hum. Just pick something. I’ll bet you, I’ll bet you -- I know betting is illegal around here -- but I bet you we won’t do anything that has to do with the economy. I bettcha.”
Watch Brown's remarks here, at 1:19.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.