>"I can't go back to Washington later today and start working again on fluff," former Jordache model Scott Brown complained to the Chamber of Commerce yesterday, in widely reported comments. News coverage of his speech focused on the predictable pitch of this truck driving, barn jacketed regular guy for "focusing on very important things," like extending the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich, along with the rest of us. His implicit denigration of everything else as "fluff" was generally ignored.

Given the major legislative battles of the past year and the long list of issues confronting the lame-duck Senate, Brown's contempt for everything but tax relief is striking -- and a lot more newsworthy than his party line on taxes. What has Congress been "working on" since Brown took office less than one year ago? It focused on fluffy items like health care and financial reform and a climate change bill that Brown helped block. Fluffy matters awaiting Senate action now include a repeal of DADT, (a national security as well as an equal justice priority); confirmation of essential high Administration appointees, like Jim Cole, nominee for Deputy Attorney General ("kind of like the chief operating officer for the entire justice department," NPR notes); and confirmation of federal judges.

I don't imagine that Brown would persist in characterizing any of these items as fluffy, if he were asked to explain his reference to legislative fluff; (although I do imagine he would join his colleagues in continuing to block Obama Administration appointments, precisely because appointment battles are highly consequential, not inconsequential fluff). I understand that Brown's reference to fluff was a rhetorical device designed to limit attention to taxes (and he was, after all, addressing the Chamber of Commerce). I recognize the political emergency posed by looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts, (although I do wish deficit hawks in the Senate had displayed a similar sense of urgency about reinstating estate taxes on billionaires). Still, it's the ease with which Brown dismissed everything but tax cuts as fluff that's so disturbing.

Democrats share blame for shaping a policy agenda that no longer includes initiatives that should surely be as urgent as tax cuts -- like imposing a rule of law on the authoritarian security state or filling vacancies on the federal judiciary. In addition to condoning indefinite detention for terror suspects (among other legal outrages), Obama has nominated fewer judges than his predecessor; and judicial confirmations (concerns for relatively tiny numbers of democratic voters) have not been a priority for majority Leader Harry Reid. Democrats in the White House and Senate would have to take a long view (past the next election) to consider that the fate of legislation they manage to pass may be decided by federal judges. The trouble is that, for Democrats and Republicans alike, looking past the next election requires the willingness to lose it.