Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation ended last week, dominated by the enactment of healthcare reform as it was, by gathering at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center on Friday afternoon.
But in a vivid illustration of just how the political reality of its has changed, just one of the Bay State’s U.S. senators, Democrat John Kerry, came to talk to reporters about how Massachusetts will benefit from the new law that make the lives of those in the state “demonstrably, undeniably better.”
Meanwhile, Kerry’s new Senate colleague, Republican Scott Brown was very much elsewhere, releasing a statement attacking the very health reform legislation that Kerry had helped pass.
“I am strongly opposed to the trillions of dollars in spending, the billions of dollars in tax increases and the enormous financial burden it will put on Massachusetts families and businesses,” Brown says. “The simple fact is that this bill will hurt jobs and the economy in our state at a time when unemployment remains near ten percent. The American people deserve better and our economy deserves better. I will work in the Senate to repeal the worst parts of this bill and replace it with legislation that will actually help lower health care costs for Massachusetts families without affecting our citizens’ care, hurting our businesses or putting our country further into debt.”
For anyone who had grown accustomed to seeing both Massachusetts senators virtually arm-in-arm as a team for decades, Kerry gone solo was a bit of an odd sight — but one that clearly becoming much more common since Brown’s upset victory Jan. 19, making him the first Bay State Republican in 30 years to be sent to the U.S. Senate.
Although Kerry had campaigned for Brown’s opponent to take the seat once held by Kerry’s late friend and mentor, Democrat Ted Kennedy, Kerry and Brown publicly have described a civil, professional working relationship.
Further, some political analysts have said that the Bay State could benefit from having a Republican in Congress for the first time since voters sent two GOP House members into retirement in the 1990s, since Brown actually sit down and work with the Republicans in Washington.
Despite such vows of cooperation and potential for bipartisanship, it’s unclear that this odd pairing — particularly the Brown side of the partnership — is really delivering anything concrete for voters who elected them.
Over the years, Kerry would regularly team up with Kennedy to announce new federal grants and other funding to towns, fire stations, universities, and other projects and constituents back home.
Kerry and Brown have issued no joint statements since the latter was sworn in early in February — although there have been opportunities to do so.
Since February, Kerry released announcements of $32 million for broadband development on Cape Cod; $583,200 statewide to from the Agriculture Department to increase enrollment in school meal programs; $100,000 for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study the U.S. electric grid; multiple $150,000 awards to manufacturers throughout the state to more effectively compete with overseas rivals; various awards to various local agencies to prevent home foreclosures; and others, as well.
In the same period, by contrast, Brown issued no such announcements of federal assistance to Massachusetts, its towns or its citizens. The news bulletins from Brown all came in the form of policy pronouncements, or press releases designed to call attention to the senator’s media appearances on television.
Other senators, even conservative Republican ones, are expected to not only introduce legislation, vote on bills, and show up on TV. They fight for, and deliver on, whatever the particular priorities are for the voters back home.
For instance Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced federal disaster assistance for Iowa counties; $192,850 in government funds for airports in his state; $264,584 for five Iowa fire departments; plus more. It’s not only money that senators have to demonstrate they are delivering for their states.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate. Yet in addition to sounding off, for or against, various federal legislation or policies, Hutchison also lets her constituents know that she is working on issues important to them. For instance, she and colleague Sen. John Cornyn, announced how they were working to convince Army Secretary John McHugh to change his mind on a decision that would close a plant in Sealy, Texas, which makes Army vehicles. In another example, Hutchison issued a press release to let people know about the detention in Haiti of a resident of Amarillo, Texas.
So far, there is no evidence Brown is doing any of this work in the Senate.
Further, despite reportedly adulation as the new GOP rock star, Brown’s clout with his conservative colleagues appears limited to the sole instance in which he crossed party lines to help break a Republican filibuster on just one of the Democrats’ jobs bills, the HIRE Act.
Although his home state had to begin borrowing money from the federal government in February to keep its unemployment program running, Brown was publicly silent when first Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), and later, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), held up legislation to extend jobless benefits.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.