Brown’s ‘Moderate’ Label Subject Of Dueling Stats
By Joel Senick
Boston University News Service
WASHINGTON — As he has pursued re-election this year in one of the most predominantly Democratic states in the nation, Republican Scott Brown’s voting record over his three years on Capitol Hill – and the extent to which he has or has not lined up with his party’s leadership – has been a focal point.
Both Mr. Brown and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, have zeroed in on the issue in debates and on the campaign trail – with Warren attacking the incumbent for key votes in which he has sided with his Republican colleagues, and Brown insisting that he is an independent, truly moderate voice in Washington.
The issue is complicated by numerous scores and analyses that have tracked Brown’s voting record, and which each candidate has highlighted on a selective basis to buttress his or her respective arguments.
Brown has routinely pointed to a 2011 Congressional Quarterly voting analysis that found him the second most bipartisan member of the Senate. But critics have cited other statistics to contend that the senator has voted to kill progressive legislative initiatives by regularly backing the Senate GOP leadership on procedural votes.
“Scott Brown picks what he wants and Elizabeth Warren picks what she wants,” said Richard E. Cohen, a veteran journalist who has covered Congress since 1973 for publications such as National Journal and Congressional Quarterly. “It challenges voters to figure out what they make of it.”
In the view of one political scientist, part of the problem is that Brown has to balance the interests of a liberal-leaning electorate back home and the increasingly conservative national party of which he is a member. If Brown wants to be an influential voice within his party, he must vote with GOP leadership on key issues, which are primarily economic, said William Crotty, a professor of political science at Northeastern University.
“When he’s needed, he has to vote with his Republican leadership. His survival in Congress is different than his survival at home,” said Crotty, noting that Brown is able to more easily cross the aisle on non-economic and social issues, along with those destined to pass the Senate by a wide margin.
In addition to the Congressional Quarterly analysis, Brown ranks as the third most moderate Republican member of the Senate on a scale devised by DW-NOMINATE – which issues annual assessments based on a methodology developed by two political scientists in the 1980s.
A Washington Post review of votes taken in the current Congress found Brown has sided with his party 66 percent of the time — placing him as the third most moderate Republican in the Senate. By contrast, the most moderate Democrat in the review voted along party lines at a rate of 83 percent.
Brown also has a voting score of 62 from the American Conservative Union, but the group only gives awards for conservatism to legislators who score over an 80, according to a spokeswoman.
“I am one of those vanishing breeds of senator, — the ones in the middle who are trying to work together to get things done,” Brown contended during the conclusion of a recent debate with Warren.
Brown has moved across the aisle on some high-profile Senate votes since arriving following a special election in 2010. That year, he was one of just three Republican senators to vote for the so-called Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, and he joined seven Republican colleagues in voting with the Democratic majority to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – thereby allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
More recently, he was one of two GOP senators to vote against a Republican plan that would have extended all Bush era tax cuts for one year, and also lined up with Democrats on legislation ranging from efforts to increase cybersecurity, create jobs for veterans, and provide incentives for businesses to bring jobs back from overseas. The latter three proposals were all blocked by procedural votes supported by most of Brown’s Republican colleagues, thereby cutting off debate before a final vote could have been taken.
But a study released this past May by ProgressMass, an advocacy group, found that Brown had participated in Republican-backed filibuster attempts 75 percent of the time on legislation that was supported by at least half of the Senate. These measures would have passed on an “up-or-down” vote by a simple majority of the Senate, but were blocked — mostly by Republicans –before they could be brought to the floor, the group said.
“Scott Brown’s misleading claims of bipartisanship ring hollow when we take a close look at his actual voting record,” declared ProgressMass spokesman Mathew Helman. “On the votes where he could have displayed true bipartisan leadership, Republican Scott Brown overwhelmingly supported his right-wing Republican colleagues.”
Among the votes cited by the group were three involving jobs legislation backed by President Obama, as well as a proposal to implement the so-called “Buffett rule,” which would apply a minimum tax rate of 30 percent to individuals making more than $1 million per year.
Warren has attacked Brown for voting along party lines when it comes to issues of the economy and taxation, as well as for joining Republicans this year to block a bill that promoted equal pay for women and for his 2010 opposition to the nomination of Supreme Court Judge Elena Kagan.
“Senator Brown doesn’t want to talk about his voting record; he just wants to launch attacks,” said Warren during the most recent debate between the two opponents.
On environment and energy issues, Brown has voted with the Republican majority in favor of bills that would expand off shore oil drilling and keep certain subsidies for U.S. oil companies. He has a lifetime voting score of 22 from the League of Conservation Voters, a national environmental advocacy that has endorsed Warren in the upcoming election.
“His environmental record is really atrocious, it’s something that the voters in Massachusetts should see as they’re casting their votes this November,” said LCV spokesman Jeff Gohringer. He added that, when elected, the LCV hoped Brown would be a moderate voice on the environment, but has since been disappointed.
Even among expert observers, there’s hardly unanimity with regard to the countervailing claims.
Compared to many of the Republican hardliners in today’s Senate, Brown’s record is undoubtedly moderate, said Michael Kryzanek, a political science professor at Bridgewater State University.
“I would say that within our political culture in New England that Senator Brown is indeed a moderate,” said Kryzanek. “If he can continue to convince people that he’s independent and bipartisan and will work for the best interest of Massachusetts… then he will be successful.”
However, Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer and author of The Last Great Senate — a book about the Senate of the 1970s – suggested that “it’s too early to tell whether [Mr. Brown] would actually fit in as a moderate in historical terms.”
While saying that he believes Brown is more moderate than many of his current Republican colleagues, Shapiro – an attorney who ran for Congress as a Democrat a decade ago — cited “some of the things he has said and done, particularly his endorsement of Justice [Antonin] Scalia, as his favorite justice, that doesn’t smack of moderation.”