Brown would join a GOP filibuster of finance bill

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / April 19, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senator Scott Brown said yesterday that he would join a Republican filibuster to block a package of financial overhaul bills from coming to a vote in the Senate, providing his GOP allies with greater support as they seek to stifle Democrats’ hope for a crackdown on Wall Street.

Brown, in his first Sunday morning talk show appearance since being sworn in three months ago, also accused President Obama of playing politics with the issue and said that Democrats were not doing enough to work across the aisle.

“I think the president’s political arm is now taking over this debate,’’ the Massachusetts senator said during a 13-minute appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.’’ “And it’s unfortunate because I, like many others in my state and throughout the country, want banks to be banks . . . . They don’t want them to take risky bets on our money.’’

“This bill is not a good bill, period,’’ he added. Brown also said the bill would harm some Massachusetts companies because “the big web’’ of new investing rules would make it more difficult for insurance companies such as Liberty Mutual and MassMutual to do business. Without elaborating or explaining where he got the estimate, Brown also claimed the bill would cost 25,000 to 35,000 jobs.

Attacking the bill as a jobs-loser in a shaky economy would be a new approach for Republicans, who have been far more focused on portraying it as one that could provide further bailouts to big banks. Brown did not mention that line of attack, which was launched by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

Brown was casual at some points, saying to host Bob Schieffer, “Bob, I agree with you,’’ and dropping a line about “speaking with Secretary [Timothy] Geithner the other day.’’

He declined to say whether he thought Obama was pushing socialist policies, said he had “great respect’’ for Sarah Palin, and added he was “very thankful for the tea party’s support.’’

Brown’s appearance comes at a key time for Republican political strategy, with top Democrats planning to bring the financial measure to the Senate floor as early as this week. It was also unusual for a freshman senator to have such a high profile one-on-one interview so early in his tenure, illustrating Brown’s national profile.

Washington, for the next several weeks, will be fixated on financial regulatory reform, as Senate Democrats determine whether they should alter their bill to attract Republican support or dare them to vote against a plan meant to crack down on unpopular Wall Street firms.

The House has already passed its bill, which was drafted by Representative Barney Frank of Newton, chairman of the Financial Services Committee.

Brown, who ran for office touting himself as the 41st senator to block the Democrats’ health care bill, could have a greater impact on the direction of financial reform. Brown’s election gave Republicans the 41 votes they need to filibuster any plan they disagree with.

His rhetoric on the plan has grown harsher in the past week, but he said yesterday it was still possible for him to support a compromise, even if that means bucking party leaders.

Brown avoided talking specifics of the bill.

“Where there are problems, we should fix them,’’ he said. And when asked what specifically should be done, he said, “Well, the next step is to bring people — put them in a room and start solving problems.’’

Still, he cast his opposition as standing up for companies in Massachusetts.

“The regulation, the bill that’s being proposed by the banking chairman, dramatically affects businesses, Mutual, for example, Liberty Mutual, Mass Mutual,’’ Brown said. “These folks are caught in that regulation as well. It’s going to cost potentially 25,000 to 35,000 jobs.’’

“Well, now, wait a minute, Senator,’’ Schieffer said. “How can you say that?’’

“Well, I can say it very clearly because the regulations that are — they’re trying to reel in with some of the risky hedging that bets are doing also affects companies like I just described in Massachusetts,’’ Brown said.

Brown aides said later that the figures came from MassMutual chief executive Roger W. Crandall — who met with Brown on Friday in Springfield — and referred to jobs losses in Massachusetts. Company officials said yesterday, however, they had not supplied the estimate.

“While I certainly agree with him that it has a jobs impact, I don’t know where he got that jobs estimate,’’ said Kenneth S. Cohen, senior vice president and deputy general counsel at MassMutual, who was at the Springfield meeting and met with Brown two weeks ago. “We don’t have any specific numbers.’’

If true, a loss of up to 35,000 jobs would be significant. There were about 207,000 jobs in the financial, insurance, and real estate sectors in Massachusetts last month, according to state data.

Brown did not say specifically what provisions of the bill would hurt jobs, and his aides would not elaborate. MassMutual officials — who generally support the House version of the bill — said they oppose the Senate version because it includes provisions that would change the types of investments the insurance company can make.

The bill, they say, would cost them jobs directly because they would have to pay new fees that would cut into profits. Fees, for example, would be assessed on companies with more than $50 billion in assets to repay taxpayers for expected costs of the 2008 federal bailout. Company officials say MassMutual would have to pay the fee — $200 million to $300 million over the next decade — even though it didn’t receive funds from the bailout.

The bill could also cost outside jobs, they say, because the legislation would limit them in forming private equity funds. MassMutual and other Bay State-based life insurance companies formed a consortium in 1977, the Massachusetts Capital Resource Company, that has invested about $575 million in 300 businesses. “We just want to be able to continue our core business,’’ Cohen said. “Unfortunately with this legislation the broom sweeps much too broadly.’’

Brown also addressed some criticism he faced for not leaving his duties in the Senate to join tea party protests in Boston and Washington. He pointed out that he had committee hearings to attend and noted last year he had attended two rallies in Worcester. “I am very thankful for the tea party’s support,’’ he said. “I respect what they’re doing.’’