NEWBURYPORT — A single word spoken by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown on Friday at a Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce luncheon has sparked a political maelstrom among those anxious to see how the junior senator will vote on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's controversial budget-cutting plan.
In a reference to the ongoing budget process, Brown, who was keynote speaker at the chamber's annual meeting, intimated to the crowd he would vote for the Wisconsin Republican's budget proposal, even though he didn't expect it to pass.
"The leaders will bring forward (Ryan's) budget, and I will vote for it, and it will fail," Brown told local business leaders gathered at Black Swan Country Club in Georgetown for the chamber's annual meeting. "Then, the president will bring forward his budget, and it will fail. It will be great fodder for the commercials."
But Brown staffers, wary of political fallout from his comments, were quick to follow up on his remarks, clarifying that the senator has yet to decide how he will vote on the matter. They said Brown meant to say he would vote "on" the bill, but not necessarily "for" it.
"He was making the point that political games are being played in Washington, but was not saying how he would vote on the bill, which, as you know, has not come up for a vote in the Senate and is not scheduled to anytime soon," Brown spokesman Colin Reed said.
The bill is expected to be voted on by the end of the month.
After the chamber event, Brown's comments quickly became the talk of Washington pundits and bloggers and set off a round of media questions.
Brown affirmed yesterday in an Associated Press report that he supports the overall direction Ryan's budget takes toward reducing spending. However, he declined, through a spokesman, to say if he backs Ryan's Medicare overhaul, a key part of a House GOP budget plan that would turn the program into a voucher system. He also declined to say if he would cast a vote in favor of the budget plan.
Democrats scoffed at the explanation, however. They accused Brown of backtracking and trying to have it both ways — casting himself as supportive of deep budget cuts while distancing himself from specifics, such as the dramatic changes in Medicare in Ryan's plan.
Ryan's Medicare proposal has not been popular with voters. Members of the House GOP leadership have softened their stance on the immediacy of enacting the Medicare overhaul amid an outcry from seniors.
House and Senate Democrats are attempting to push for a vote on the Ryan budget by the end of May in order to force moderate leaders like Brown to take what might be an unpopular stand in their left-leaning home states.
Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.