Senator Scott Brown is getting a lot of praise from the left and abuse from the right for crossing party lines to help pass a jobs bill earlier this week. The conservatives' acrimony is as predictable as it is irrational, and Brown deserves to suffer their wrath. He climbed into bed with these nut jobs and gladly took their money — now he's stuck with them.
As for the grateful Democrats: they shouldn't get suckered into making too much of Brown's bold "independent" vote.
Yes, Brown deserves credit for doing the right thing on this relatively meager legislation. But his vote looks like a savvy piece of political calculation, both by Brown and his new overlord, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
To put it simply, it is in Brown's interest to vote with Democrats whenever his vote doesn't matter.
That will give him the appearance of independence from national Republicans, who are as popular in these parts as toxic red tide. Those votes will help offset the times when Brown really will be needed to fulfill what his conservative donors thought they were paying for: the 41st vote to deny cloture and prevent Democratic bills from coming to a vote.
The jobs bill was a perfect opportunity for Brown to be "independent." In all, five Republican senators voted for the bill. McConnell couldn't stop it from passing — and probably didn't want to. As much as the GOP's election strategy depends on frustrating Democrats' legislative attempts at every turn, they would prefer not to be blamed for killing a jobs bill.
The real test of Brown's willingness to buck his party will come when Republicans need his 41st vote. That will come soon, and will be repeated often. When it does, we expect to discover that Brown is on the side of those national conservative nut jobs, not the people of Massachusetts.
Beacon Hill follies
The people of Massachusetts are also not being served well by their governor and legislature, who seem bent on going to war with each other, rather than dealing responsibly with the coming year's state budget and its $2.75 billion gap.
Governor Deval Patrick is insisting that local aid not be reduced in next year's budget. To help make the numbers work, Patrick wants $230 million in new revenues — including $75 million in sales taxes on soda, candy, and tobacco.
Patrick has to know that lawmakers would not go along with these proposals, which suggests that he is trying to pick a fight with them. It's the age-old election-year ploy: run against the legislature. (And yet it's a tricky one: the legislature has much to be ashamed of, but it rarely gets in trouble for failing to pass new taxes.)
A showdown appears imminent. In the coming months, we can expect the governor to play the martyr, protecting towns from the grim reapers in the legislature. Meanwhile, legislative leaders will call Patrick a cruel tax-raiser who wants to literally take candy from babies.
Both sides should grow up. The legislature is right to reject the regressive taxes that hurt small retail businesses, along with every soda-drinking, candy-eating kid and adult in the state. As to more taxes on tobacco: one has to wonder when the tipping point will be reached, if it hasn't been already. The more these taxes are raised, the more it drives people not to quit smoking, but to buy tobacco elsewhere. That will only result in less revenue, not more.