Now that Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is officially a U.S. senator, he has a fantastic opportunity. With healthcare reform wallowing in limbo and most Senate Republicans eager to kill just about every piece of legislation they see, Senator Brown is in a unique position to work with Democrats.
As a Republican representing a majority-Democratic state, Scott Brown is perfectly positioned to improve cooperation between the parties by balancing the interests of his constituents with those of his party.
Republican leadership seems to be content with a strategy of creating gridlock, and they would be delighted to see healthcare reform die a slow death, thereby "breaking" President Obama, making healthcare his "Waterloo"-- as articulated by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on July 17, 2009. Indeed, soon after Brown's election, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated that he hoped the healthcare bill was dead.
However, Senator Brown can chart his own course and give new life to a nearly extinct breed in the Senate: the moderate Republican. If he chooses, instead, to join in Republican obstructionist efforts and simply try to "break" the president while failing to produce anything concrete on important issues, he will have a lot of explaining to do when he faces the voters in 2012.
As Ted Kennedy's successor, Scott Brown can seize the opportunity he has been given by picking up the fallen standard of the Senate Lion and saying to the nation, "let's solve our problems." After all, Senator Kennedy was known for his maneuverability and willingness to compromise in order to get things done.
The nation's problems are numerous and large. The economy is fragile, the financial sector needs regulatory reform, immigration and border security must be addressed, the government's fiscal position is unsustainable, and we face multiple foreign policy challenges. Congress has already spent a year primarily focused on healthcare. It is time to finish the job and move on to other pressing matters.
This Congress was elected with a strong mandate to pass healthcare reform. If it has nothing to show the voters in November, Democrats will likely be judged as feckless and weak, while Republicans risk being seen as obstructionists with no solutions of their own -- perhaps most eloquently described as "the party of 'no.'
Though Americans are divided over how exactly to reform the healthcare system, there is enough public support to pass meaningful reforms. However, this support is fading quickly. If the window of opportunity closes, it may be another two decades until Congress tries again. In the meantime, costs will continue to soar as countless Americans go without coverage.
The current bills will have to be scaled back. It is sometimes better to make incremental improvements, and a compromise bill with broader input may be more effective. Tort reform should be included to appeal to Republicans and to increase savings in the healthcare system. Democrats need to embrace these types of compromises.
Though Brown is the Senate's most junior member, now is the time for him to show leadership. He can start honoring Ted Kennedy's legacy by working with both parties to forge a compromise healthcare bill.
As successor to one of the most accomplished senators in American history, a man beloved by his constituents and many others, Senator Brown will find it expedient to support Ted Kennedy's signature issue. Moreover, Brown voted for universal healthcare in Massachusetts in 2006 as a state senator. It would not be outlandish to assume that he could support more conservative reform efforts on the national level.
I sincerely hope that Senator Brown seizes the moment. If he pushes for a compromise healthcare bill, helps usher it through the Senate, and then carries that spirit of cooperation into other issue areas, he may be worthy of succeeding Senator Kennedy. If he joins other Republicans in blocking and delaying at a time when the nation desperately needs an effective Congress, I suspect that he will be remembered as a two-year Senator whose strongest qualification was being in the right place at the right time.