Setti Warren, the latest Democrat to challenge Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., on Tuesday singled out Brown’s support for maintaining tax breaks for upper-income earners for special criticism as he begins his 2012 campaign.
The tax cuts have been controversial and Warren's position puts him at odds on the issue with both President Obama and his old boss, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Warren, the first-term mayor of Newton, told National Journal that Brown’s vote in favor of extending the Bush-era tax cuts, including the upper-bracket ones, counted as one of the examples of Brown “voting against the interests of Massachusetts.” Brown’s vote came as part of an 81-19 Senate verdict last December approving a deal brokered largely by Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“He is wrong, he is absolutely wrong in continuing to support tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, that’s what I’m saying, and he continues to support them,” Warren said of Brown when asked whether he was explicitly criticizing the December deal.
The compromise, which angered liberals for its furtherance of a tax policy against which Obama had campaigned, also blocked an income tax hike and renewed of benefits for people on long-term unemployment.
Without weighing in on the December vote, a Warren aide sought to walk back some of the mayor's comments. Warren campaign press secretary Chuck Gilboy called National Journal shortly after the interview to clarify, saying, “Setti’s opposed to Senator Brown’s approach of holding the middle-class tax cuts hostage.”
Brown's camp played down the development: "Scott Brown was elected to do a job, and his focus is on getting the economy moving again. There will be plenty of time for campaigning later," Brown spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said in an e-mail.
The Bush tax cuts won’t play well in a Democratic primary in Massachusetts, but if Warren is looking past the September 2012 contest to the one in November, against an incumbent who has proven his ability to attract support from traditionally Democratic voters, appearing to whack a compromise pact hailed as the recent apex of bipartisanship in Washington might not prove as productive.
Warren formalized his candidacy on Monday in a five-minute web video and gave a launch speech on Tuesday morning. Also in the Democratic field: CityYear founder Alan Khazei, who placed third in the 2009 primary for the seat; activist and former lieutenant governor candidate Robert Massie; and immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco.
Warren, a former Kerry aide and naval intelligence officer who served a one-year tour in Iraq, said brief stops to Bay State cities had confirmed his critique of Brown—that the Republican elected to fill the seat held for 47 years by Sen. Edward Kennedy had lost the maverick appeal for which the state voted.
“This is really about the values and sentiment around the state of Massachusetts and what mine are and what his record reflects,” Warren said in a telephone interview. “His record does not reflect the independent voice that most people thought. He’s voted 87 percent of the time with the Republican leaders in Washington. He voted to extend the Bush tax cuts.”
Warren, serving in the second year of a six-year mayoral term, played down concerns about his day job and his campaign, raised by both Republicans and prominent members of his own party like Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., another Newton Democrat.
“We have a fantastic team and we have an agenda that we have in place and we will continue to move it forward,” Warren said, pointing to what he called his two years of fiscal reform successes.
Warren declined to answer questions about how much money his campaign would need to raise, deferring to his campaign manager, Deborah Shah, who said she thinks “we’re going to raise enough money to be competitive.”
Brown has told supporters he would raise $25 million. According to first quarter finance reports, Brown had more than $8.3 million on hand.