Why Did Scott Brown Filibuster The Payroll Tax Cut?

Senate Republicans yesterday filibustered the Democrats’ legislation for extending the soon-to-expire payroll tax break, with the plan going down by a vote of 51–49 (shy of the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture). The GOP leadership’s alternative plan for extending the tax break went down by an overwhelming vote of 20–78.

The reason that the GOP voted down the Democrats’ plan is that it would have been paid for by a small surtax on income above $1 million. Just one Republican — Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) — broke with her colleagues, who have consistently protected tax breaks for the wealthy while showing little more than indifference about a tax increase on the middle class.

One of the most mystifying actors in this particular debate has been Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). While he has been trying to play the populist recently, Brown voted with the GOP to protect tax breaks for the wealthy rather than tax millionaires. But earlier this week, Brown explained that he was fine with extending the payroll tax break without paying for it at all:

Brown declared Tuesday that he favors extending a payroll tax cut without finding a way to make up for the lost revenue, while last year he opposed extending unemployment benefits unless Congress offset the $56 billion cost. […]

But Brown saw no reason to go with the Democrats’ plan to tax the rich or with McConnell’s to find the cash elsewhere, noting that Congress did not pay for last year’s break.

“It wasn’t paid for before, so why is it paid for now?” Brown told several reporters Tuesday. “Through economic activity, it’ll pay for itself. I think we need to get it out there, get the money in people’s hands.”

Though Brown is mistaken in thinking that tax cuts pay for themselves, his unpaid for extension would actually provide the most boost to the economy. So in a roundabout way he is advocating the most stimulative approach of all.


The surtax proposed by Democrats would have affected just 0.6 percent of Massachusetts taxpayers, who have an average income of more than $2 million. Yet Brown has somehow convinced himself that these few wealthy people should be shielded from a tax increase, even if it ultimately means that taxes go up on 113 million households.