Brown more subdued in third Mass. Senate debate

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and professor Elizabeth Warren (D) squared off in front of a divided and lively crowd Wednesday for the third of four debates in the nationally watched race for one of Massachusetts’ two U.S. Senate seats.

As Brown and Warren sparred over taxes and infrastructure spending, women’s rights, and cuts to the military, a lively crowd at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass., repeatedly interrupted the sparring candidates with boos and cheers. Moderator Jim Madigan of WGBY-TV was forced to remind the audience that the interruptions only served to shorten the candidates’ time to answer, but his requests failed to silence the boisterous audience.

Notably, Brown was less aggressive than he had been in the previous two debates and did not bring up the subject of Warren’s heritage, a sign that perhaps Brown had received some pushback on his previously tough attacks on Warren’s character. Though he did not soften his attacks on Warren’s legal clients, Brown sought to stress his bipartisanship, and blunt Warren’s attacks on his Senate voting record.

Warren won the coin toss and fielded the first question on unemployment. She used the opportunity to hit Brown on his voting record, specifically arguing that he had voted against jobs bills in Washington in order to protect millionaires and billionaires. In the long term, Warren said, it was important for Massachusetts to make investments in education and research. Brown countered that the bills he voted against were jobs bills “in name only,” and were rejected in a bipartisan manner. His voted, he said, to keep Washington from taking money out of the economy and spending it.

The second question, on healthcare, saw Brown tout his work in the state Senate on the state’s healthcare system and criticize Warren’s support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which he said institutes 18 new taxes and cuts three-quarters of a trillion dollars from Medicare. Warren accused Brown of taking a page from former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney’s debate playbook, arguing instead that the ACA helped strengthen Medicare by removing waste, fraud, and insurance subsidies.

Brown’s argument was “wrong then, it’s wrong tonight,” Warren said to applause.

Brown countered that the federal government would be dumbing down what the state had already done, calling the ACA a “jobs crushing bill.”

When asked what they would do to address the cost of college debt, Warren said that the state needed a well-educated workforce. Though there isn’t a magic bullet, she said, it was about priorities, and accused Brown of twice voting to let student loan interest rates double. Brown parried by pointing out that he recently had a daughter graduate from college, and drew applause when he brought up that Warren was paid about $350,000 to teach a single course at Harvard, in addition to a zero-interest loan, housing and other perks.

The fourth question asked the candidates how they’d help local schools. Brown went first, saying that he had never voted for an unfunded mandate from the federal government. Warren sought a contrast by arguing that local schools needed a “good federal partner” in Washington.

When discussing the economy, Brown took the opportunity to undercut Warren’s status as a fighter for the middle class. He referred to Warren’s work as a lawyer defending corporate clients, then shifted gears to portray himself as a defender of middle-class pocketbooks.

“The one thing we can’t be doing right now,” Brown said, “in the middle of this three-and-a-half year recession is by taking more money out of peoples’ hard-working pocketbooks and wallets and giving it to the federal government. They’re like pigs in a trough up there, they will just take and take and take and take.”

Brown’s remark drew immediate applause, causing Madigan to comment that he was “losing control.”

Warren countered that she believed in everyone paying their fair share.

“That means the millionaires, that means the billionaires, that means the big oil companies,” she said, drawing applause of her own.

The two candidates also traded blows on women’s rights. Brown explained that he had always been supportive of women’s rights. Warren commented that Brown had “some good votes,” but slammed him on voting against a slew of other bills. She would be there not just some of the time for Massachusetts’s women, she said, but all of the time.

In the evening’s penultimate question, the candidates found some common ground on Iran and assistance to Syria. Their disagreements on defense came in regards to the budget, with Warren saying cuts in the military were necessary to avoid across-the-board cuts. Brown argued that cuts to the military would result in reductions to military bases in Massachusetts.