WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown was sworn in as a U.S. senator Thursday, ending a Democratic Party supermajority and making it harder for President Barack Obama to pursue healthcare and other legislative reforms.
Brown, who replaces the late Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, became the 41st Republican in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Until Thursday, Republican strength was at 40 seats and Democrats controlled 60, the minimum number needed to overcome procedural hurdles on bills and presidential nominations.
Brown was sworn in by Vice President Joseph Biden, who also serves as president of the Senate.
A former Massachusetts state senator, Brown won an upset victory last month in the heavily Democratic state, in part by running against the healthcare reform bill Obama was seeking.
His election has caused Democrats to reassess their legislative goals in this election year, when the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate’s seats are up for grabs in November.
Brown said that throughout his political career in Massachusetts, he reached across the aisle to work with Democrats and that such communication was needed in Washington.
But he used his first news conference as a U.S. senator to attack Obama’s economic stimulus bill, saying it “didn’t create one new job,” and he advocated core conservative Republican beliefs including the need for across-the-board tax cuts because “everybody needs immediate relief.”
Obama is trying to end tax cuts for the wealthy enacted under former President George W. Bush.
Brown, who posed as a nude centerfold in a 1982 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, declined to answer directly when asked whether adding to the government’s exploding debt with broad tax cuts was a concern. But he said, “When you offer tax reductions and tax cuts, there will be more people, more money in their pocket and naturally create more jobs.”
Asked to outline what legislation he was willing to work on in a bipartisan way with Democrats, Brown said he needed to “see what issues are coming up.”
He added that it was “important to look at the economy first,” and then spoke of the international terrorism threat to the United States and domestic taxes.
In late December, Senate Democrats used their supermajority to pass a healthcare reform bill that has faced solid Republican opposition.
With Brown’s arrival in the Senate, Democrats now must reassess their entire strategy for enacting the reforms aimed at saving the government billions of dollars in healthcare spending and expanding insurance to tens of millions of uninsured.
Brown also could slow Obama’s nominations and make it more difficult for climate change legislation, already in trouble, to pass the Senate.
Editing by Matthew Bigg and Mohammad Zargham