Brown, 4 others in GOP break ranks to advance jobs bill

Measure would extend tax relief for employers

By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff | February 23, 2010

WASHINGTON – Senator Scott Brown came into office as someone who could deliver the pivotal vote for the GOP to halt Democratic initiatives. But yesterday, Brown delivered for the Democrats, helping them advance a jobs bill President Obama and his party seek.

In one of his first actions in the chamber, the freshman Bay State Republican joined four of his GOP colleagues in deciding to end debate on the $15 billion bill, allowing the Senate to avoid a filibuster and move ahead to a final vote, which requires a simple majority. The tally was 62 to 30.

The support by Brown and other GOP lawmakers could represent a critical psychological break for the Senate, which has been mired in bitter partisan fights over everything from the massive health care package to uncontroversial presidential nominations.

“I think he and I are going to do a lot of music together,’’ said Senator George V. 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,’’ he said.

When Brown’s seat was held by the late senator Edward M. Kennedy and then by Paul Kirk, Democrats had, at least in theory, the 60 votes needed to break GOP filibusters.

Brown’s upset election last month ended that possibility, forcing Senate Democratic leaders to woo Republicans to advance their bills. Yesterday, Brown and Voinovich were joined by Republican counterparts Kit Bond of Missouri and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan M. Collins, both of Maine. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson was the only Democrat to vote against the jobs package.

On the Senate’s first day back after a holiday recess, Brown was already on the floor ready to vote when the roll call began. He 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 – could be attributed to freshman eagerness, seasoned political savvy, or both. When lawmakers decide to oppose their leadership, many vote quickly, before anyone can pressure them to switch their votes, then leave the chamber.

Brown spoke with leadership in both parties before he cast his vote, said Colin Reed, spokesman. And Democrats, who have been incessantly battling 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,’’ Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the Senate majority leader, said on the floor after the vote.

Obama offered his congratulations. “I’m grateful to the Democratic and Republican senators who voted to support these investments in infrastructure and small businesses,’’ he said last night. “This is one of many efforts we need to tackle our economic challenges, and we will continue to work with Congress on additional job creation measures.’’

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 at least a year. 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. It is also significantly smaller than a Senate measure that had been 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 cautioned that Democrats needed to offer a hand of cooperation as well.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and chairman of the national Republican Senatorial Committee, said Brown did not 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.

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