When he was campaigning for the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, Scott Brown and his backers kept making a big deal about "41."
The point was that a special-election win by Brown, a Republican, would give his party the 41 votes it needed to maintain filibusters in a 100-seat Senate where 60 votes are needed to advance legislation.
But now that he is the junior senator from Massachusetts, Brown’s not always "41."
On Monday, he was "61."
Or, maybe, "62."
When the Senate voted on the $15 billion jobs bill developed by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Republican leaders made a lot of noise about how they were going to block a bill that they didn’t think gave enough tax breaks to the rich.
But Brown was one of five Republicans who voted with the Democrats to invoke cloture and advance the jobs bill. (The others were Maine moderates Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and two senators from economically hard-it states: Ohio’s George Voinovich and Missouri’s Kit Bond.)
The unexpected vote by the new senator from Massachusetts earned a headline in Washington’s The Hill newspaper that declared: "Brown Helps Reid Win."
For his part, Brown recognized that he was failing to fit the stereotype of a "party of ‘no’" Republican.
Said Brown: "I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside, and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families. This Senate jobs bill is not perfect. I wish the tax cuts were deeper and broader, but I voted for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work."
Brown is sort of right. This $15 billion jobs bill is not perfect. But the imperfection has less to do with insufficient tax cuts than with the measure’s size — AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called it "a Band-Aid."
Reid’s counter is that this is a first installment in a series of Senate responses to the nation’s unemployment crisis.
If that is the case, there will be more tests of Brown’s commitment to job creation.
The Republican from Massachusetts certainly won’t be voting with the Democrats on every bill. But if Brown keeps giving the majority party needed votes on jobs bills, he has an opportunity to make himself more than just a number: be it "41" or "61." He might actually be something rare in the Republican caucus: a senator who cares more about out of work Americans than maintaining the "party of ‘no’" facade.