Globe Editorial

Brown should seize the chance to be a uniter, not ‘Mr. 41’

February 20, 2010

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SCOTT BROWN campaigned for the US Senate as a problem solver who values good ideas more than partisan labels, and he should make good on that vow in the debate over a bill to create jobs. What began as an ambitious package of business tax breaks and other incentives has given way to a timid $15 billion measure that will have only minor effects on unemployment. Brown could end an impasse - and dispel profound mutual distrust between Democrats and Republicans - by signaling a serious commitment to help develop and pass a more ambitious jobs bill.

The current political dynamics on Capitol Hill all point toward paralysis. Congressional Republicans have shown little willingness to let the Obama administration claim any domestic-policy successes, and their celebration of Brown as a filibuster-upholding “Mr. 41’’ bespeaks a continuing desire to block any and all Democratic initiatives. For their part, Democrats - including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who faces the Nevada electorate in November - seem paralyzed by the fear that they’ll be tarred as big spenders by voters wary of yawning federal deficits.

But simply doing nothing to stimulate employment has a stiff price: Millions of Americans remain desperate for work, and businesses are still waiting for a signal that it’s safe to hire. Congress owes the public an honest, nuts-and-bolts effort to grapple with this problem.

Rising deficits make a convenient political cudgel, because they do indeed threaten the nation’s long-term financial stability. But the need for new jobs is urgent, and any proposal to stimulate employment in the short term will cost money now. Brown’s most prominent economic proposal, an across-the-board tax cut, is no exception: It will add to the deficit no matter how it’s configured. Lawmakers worried about both unemployment and the deficit should proceed more cautiously by embracing such measures as a tax credit directly linked to hiring - an idea that raises suspicions among many liberal Democrats but enjoys considerable support among economists.

Brown’s sudden celebrity gives him leverage to move both parties away from their traditional pieties and toward a bipartisan jobs-creation bill that is big enough to push down the unemployment rate without further alarming the nation’s creditors. To achieve that goal, the Senate needs an independent-minded “Scott Brown Republican,’’ not a rigid “Mr. 41.’’

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