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2011: When Sen. Scott Brown’s Vote Changed The Outcome

Last month, we did a story about how Scott Brown is hewing to the middle in the U.S. Senate.

In the story, we pointed out that in 2011, Brown voted against his own party 54 percent of the time, and with President Obama 70 percent of the time. We based the story on a CQ ranking of Senators by how partisan (or not) they are. The rankings are based on every roll call vote a Senator makes, in which the majority of Democrats votes against the majority of Republicans. So these are, arguably, not easy votes, but controversial and contested ones.

Still, several of you commented that we should look at how Brown voted when his vote made the difference.

We did, and here’s what we found.

In 2011, Brown cast only two votes where the outcome would have been different had he voted the other way. The first one did not get much attention and had to do with reform of the Patent Office. The second had to do with an increase in the amount of money people could get in housing loans from the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans’ Administration. In both votes, Brown voted against his own party. So in 2011, on votes where his vote changed the outcome, Brown actually voted against his party 100 percent of the time.

On September 8, Brown voted against an amendment that would have derailed a compromise with the House that established a dedicated fund for the Patent Office.

For years, the Patent Office had been underfunded because Congress would spend patent fees on programs that had nothing to do with the Patent Office. As a result, applicants could wait up to three years before they got their patents approved.

Senators wanted the Patent Office to control how it spends the money from fees. But House Republicans wanted to maintain control over the money. The House and Senate compromised: patent fees would only fund the Patent Office, but Congress still had to approve the spending.

Then an amendment from Senate Republicans endangered that compromise. It would have given the Patent Office complete control over patent fees. There was no way House Republicans would have agreed with that proposal.

The Senate voted to table the Republican amendment, or to set it aside, by the narrowest of votes, 50-49. Brown voted against most of his Senate Republican colleagues to preserve the compromise with the House. The reform of the Patent Office passed. The president signed the legislation.

The other vote came on October 20. Brown voted to extend a piece of the economic stimulus that was about to expire. As part of the stimulus, Congress had increased the amount of money that the FHA and the VA could extend on home loans in areas where homes are expensive, such as eastern Massachusetts. A vote for the higher limits meant that the FHA and VA could lend as much as $729,750 for a home in those areas. The measure passed, 60-38. It needed 60 votes to pass, and Brown voted with the majority. Had he voted the other way, it would have failed. Senate Republicans opposed increasing the loan limits. Brown bucked his own party and ensured that the loan limits were increased.

Brown’s influential votes have not been limited to those where there was a one-vote margin.

One member can sway others. That’s what Log Cabin Republicans said happened in 2010, when the Senate ended the long-standing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military. The gay Republican group said Brown’s decision to end the ban on gays in the armed forces swayed other moderates in the Senate in both parties.

Brown also supported the reforms of the financial system championed by Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, of Newton, and he sided with President Obama on the renewal of the START treaty with Russia limiting nuclear weapons.

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