Brown Charts Future, Vows to Keep Fighting After Health Care Defeat

Scott Brown became a national sensation by marketing himself as the 41st vote against President Obama's health care reform legislation -- but little did he know Democrats would use a parliamentary maneuver to roll over Republicans. In one fell swoop, Brown's 41st vote on health care was rendered useless.

So what now for "Mr. 41"?

As it turns out, health care. Brown now says he is focused not on defeating the bill, but neutering it. And in the meantime, he's taking on an outsized role on the campaign trail and pledging to use his position to strike a hard bargain on other issues the "fired-up" Obama administration might try to push.

On health care, he's touting the mantra of "repeal and replace," a GOP rallying cry that refers to gutting the current law and replacing it with GOP alternatives, like the ability to purchase insurance across state lines, preventive and wellness programs, and medical malpractice reform.

In a Boston Globe op-ed last week titled, "The Health Care Fight is Not Over," Brown also said he is working on a plan for states to be able to opt out from the federal reforms -- particularly states like his that already have a health plan.

"States should have the flexibility to solve the health care problems in a way that is best for their specific state," Brown told Fox News, just after the big health care vote that put the finishing touches on the massive overhaul of the industry. "I think it's going to be really bad for my state. It's going to cost us jobs. I mean, gosh, another $66 billion in Medicare cuts, increased taxes. ... It's a bad bill, and I think we can do better."

During debate on the legislation, Brown offered an amendment to repeal a tax on medical devices, and though Democrats presented a virtually united front, rejecting his move, Brown said he would not give up. He's targeted a number of other tax hikes in the bill, though it is not likely he'll succeed unless Republicans somehow sweep the 2010 midterms far beyond what most experts have predicted.

Democrats think Brown will regret this move, though. Among some circles even within the GOP, repeal is considered a flight of fancy. Republicans would need huge majorities in Congress and, almost certainly, someone willing to reverse the landmark legislation in the White House in order to achieve it.

"If he tacks to the center, it would be harder to unseat him. The anger will still be there in 2012," said David DiMartino, a Democratic strategist with years of experience in Massachusetts politics and CEO of Blue Line Strategic Communications. "But 'repeal' will have no chance."

DiMartino said that push just feeds the Democratic storyline that Republicans are the "Party of No."

Indeed, the Democrats' 2004 presidential standard bearer and Bay State senior senator, John Kerry, recently sent a fundraising letter using Republicans' repeal efforts as a rallying cry for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"The right wing has gone off the deep end over health care," Kerry said, adding, "I've been there before. I've seen what can happen when honest debate is trumped by dishonorable falsehoods. We cannot afford to be caught flat-footed."

Brown also intends to focus on job creation. Asked by Fox News what's next following the health care vote, the senator said: "jobs, jobs, jobs." With unemployment unshakably high, many political analysts see this issue as the one officials need to home in on more than any other.

"We've got to work on helping more people find jobs. That's why I offered the tax cut," Brown said, referring to his failed effort to give mostly middle-class Americans a short-term tax break. Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the measure.

Brown has also become somewhat of a sensation on the 2010 midterm trail, first stumping for his new friend and political mentor, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- adding something akin to the energy then-freshman Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., brought to the hustings in 2006.

At Grand Canyon University in Arizona last month, before a crowd of 1,500 cheering Republicans rising to their feet, Brown yelled, "Wow! This is great. If you told me five months ago I would be standing here, I would have never believed you."

But his elders say he's got star power.

"He has earned a significant position in our party, already," McCain told Fox News before the rally. "He's really a national figure."

Brown's once-improbable ascent to a seat long held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., one of Congress' most liberal voices, was heralded by Republicans as a major rebuke of Democrats' partisan approach to governing. And Brown has shown that he is willing to break with his own party on some issues, something the senator calls his "independent voice."

He voted for two jobs bills authored by Democrats and provided a critical vote to help break a GOP filibuster of one of those bills. Still, Democrats, by and large, say Brown is more conservative than they expected.

"I think Scott Brown's future is entirely up to Scott Brown. On his own measurements, he's a complete failure so far," DiMartino said, referring to Brown's promise to be independent. "His first stop was CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). That's all you really have to know."

By and large, Brown has tacked right, voting against one of Obama's more controversial nominees, a union lawyer tapped for a seat on the National Labor Relations Board, and opposing efforts to extend unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits without an offset in spending.

His maiden Senate floor speech, just a month after entering office (something once unheard of for a freshman), highlighted a tax cut proposal he introduced.

Still, Brown remains something of an unknown, having been in office less than three months, and some Republicans counsel caution on branding the Bay State star.

"He's hardly been here any time, but everyone seems to want to slap a label on him," said one Republican pollster who asked not to be identified discussing strategy. "I've told him he needs to really latch onto a solid agenda, offer substantive legislation, keep his nose down and really work. Democrats will already be targeting him. He just needs to tune that out."

One senior Democratic operative with experience in Massachusetts campaigns, who asked for anonymity because of his work in the 2010 midterms, said Democrats will be "breathing down his neck" in the run-up to 2012, when he has to run again.

"He's going to be very careful with how he votes, I bet. Democrats in the state are going to come out in force. It won't be like last time. He's already got the target on his back," the operative said.

Already there is speculation that Brown could even appear on the 2012 GOP presidential ticket.

"You can bet he'll have a formidable opponent in a real election, not a short-term special election. He'll actually have a record. He won't be an unknown" in 2012, said DiMartino.

Thus far, Democratic sources indicate that a Kennedy running is not likely, though other popular Bay State Democrats could decide to take on the challenge, like Reps. Ed Markey, Steve Lynch and Michael Capuano.

For now, Democrats are out of procedural rabbits to pull out of their hats in Congress, so Brown's will be a vote that's courted. To that end, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already reached out on jobs legislation, perhaps opening an avenue for future talks. And just after the health care vote, Vice President Biden had the freshman senator in for lunch, a day after the VP's now famous reference to the win on health care as a "big f---ing deal."

The ever-affable Brown recalled on a Massachusetts radio show telling Biden, "I'm bleeping happy to be here, Mr. Vice President."

And Brown is, after all, still the 41st vote -- he wants the public to know he's ready to put a check on other big-ticket Democratic agenda items.

"I'm the 41st vote on a host of other things: illegal immigration, climate change," he told Fox News. He often says he'll "look at each bill as it comes to me" and reaffirms his vow to be "an independent voice for Massachusetts."

On climate change, Brown would not have to go far to find bipartisanship. Just down the hall from Brown sits his state's senior senator. Kerry is working with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Joe Lieberman, a self-styled "Independent Democrat" from Connecticut, trying to find a middle ground on legislation to combat global warming.

"He could really sell himself in the traditional New England moderate role," DiMartino noted. "John Kerry's effort to put together bipartisan climate change. ... How does someone from Massachusetts come out against it? He might as well change his name to 'two and a half' if he does, because that's how long he'll be serving."