Why Scott Brown is taking his US Senate seat early

Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts is being sworn in earlier than expected, and it's not just to avoid a snowstorm. He'll be in a key position to help fellow Republicans block the nomination of a union lawyer to the National Labor Relations Board.

Gretchen Ertl/AP
Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown takes a phone call as he greets supporters in Foxborough, Mass., at the final stop of his three-day "thank you" tour across the state.

As far as the GOP Senate minority is concerned, the cavalry arrives today. Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown is racing to Washington to be sworn in Thursday, a week earlier than he had planned.

The sudden bolt to the nation’s capital will bring Mr. Brown in ahead of a major snowstorm that’s expected to wallop the region over the weekend. More to the point, it will also end the Democrats' 60-vote supermajority – and enable Brown to take part in several key near-term votes.

In particular, the new Senator Brown will arrive just in time to block President Obama’s choice, a union attorney, from getting a key federal job.

If Brown votes against the confirmation of Craig Becker, a Service Employees International Union lawyer, to a seat on the National Labor Relations Board, his Senate career may begin with an irony. Brown received some union support and has vowed to be an independent voice – but the Becker nomination has become a bitter, partisan affair that’s expected to be decided along straight party lines.

“I’ve always been a big-tent person,” said Brown in an ABC broadcast interview on Sunday, referring to his belief that the GOP can include people with different views.

Brown's vote could stop key Obama initiatives

Brown is already a hero to conservatives nationwide, having won a special election for the seat held for decades by liberal icon Teddy Kennedy. By ensuring that the GOP can maintain a filibuster if it chooses, Brown’s vote could stop in their tracks healthcare reform, cap-and-trade greenhouse-gas emission controls, and other major administration initiatives.

But Brown also will be representing a state that is not exactly rock-ribbed GOP. His special-election term is only two years; in 2012 he’ll undoubtedly be one of the Democratic Party’s highest priority targets.

Thus his own electoral future is unlikely to be ensured if he votes in lock-step with the GOP Senate leadership. In any case, that’s unlikely: Brown favors abortion rights and is more liberal on other social issues than most of the Republican caucus.

“I am a fiscal conservative. And when it comes to issues affecting people’s pockets and pocketbooks and wallets, I’ll be with the Republicans,” Brown told ABC’s Barbara Walters.

The Becker vote is a classic labor-business battle. As a counsel at SEIU, Craig Becker has pushed hard to reverse the declining trend of nationwide union enrollment. He’s in favor of “card check,” in which a business may be unionized if a majority of workers simply sign cards in favor of the move.

Business groups bitterly oppose card check. Republicans have blocked Becker’s confirmation for months, saying they worry that he might try to push through looser union enrollment rules without congressional approval.

GOP positioned to fight labor issues

Brown’s presence in the Senate means that Republicans may be able to keep Becker from assuming his NLRB post. It also might doom Senate consideration of a new jobs measure, although the fate of that legislation remains unclear.

The Senate Democratic leadership said Thursday that it plans to take up a job measure early next week. The bill would include tax breaks for businesses that hire new workers, as well as an extension of unemployment benefits, among other items.

It’s possible the jobs bill could draw some Republican Senate support. It’s also possible the GOP leadership could decide to flex its new power and block the legislation, at least for a while.

“We hope to have a bipartisan [jobs] proposal … if not, we’ll lay one down ourselves,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid on Thursday.


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