The temptations of Scott Brown

June 28, 2010


When Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown addressed supporters after his upset victory in January, he declared there would be “no more closed-door meetings or back-room deals by an out-of-touch party leadership.”

Some would argue that’s exactly what he just did in the final push on Wall Street reform.

After private talks with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd and other top Democrats, Brown scored a series of exemptions from the “Volcker rule” — which would bar certain forms of proprietary trading — a provision pushed by big Massachusetts banks and financial firms, including State Street Corp. and Mass Mutual.

Brown could still oppose the House-Senate compromise because of the surprise addition of a $19 billion tax on large financial institutions, saying he “cannot support any bill that raises taxes.”

But as the most sweeping financial reform since the Great Depression heads for final passage in Congress, it’s clear that Brown — who won the seat held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in part by capitalizing on public anger surrounding the deal making on health care reform — has quickly become skilled in the ways of Washington.

Brown insists the changes he sought that would benefit Massachusetts firms were also national in scope, so they would not amount to a carve-out for a special interest back home.

More than a few of his colleagues grumbled at the freshman Republican’s outsize influence over the final stages of the financial reform talks. And several suggested that Brown’s deal making wasn’t very different from what Republicans had lampooned during the health care debate.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said Brown “is doing his best to look out for his constituents,” but he said it would be a slippery slope if the final language made an exception to benefit the newly elected Republican.

“Certainly, if you go to carving out one, who are you going to leave out? Why isn’t everyone else entitled to it?” Chambliss said. “That was the issue with health care and very well could be an issue here — I don’t know.”

In a brief interview, Brown took exception to the suggestion that he is engaged in the kind of closed-door horse-trading that he campaigned so vigorously against.

“There’s been full transparency,” Brown told POLITICO. “Everybody knows what’s going on. It doesn’t affect just Massachusetts; it affects the entire country and the financial services. To try to link them is inappropriate.”

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