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On jobs, Senate rivals reflect the two-party split

For more than a year, the Massachusetts Senate candidates have fought over their backgrounds, their stances on abortion, and tax policy. But throughout, both have insisted that unemployment and a state jobless rate that now sits at 6.5 percent are their top priorities.

Elizabeth Warren says that investments in roads, bridges, school construction, and other public works will stimulate businesses to hire people. Senator Scott Brown says that keeping tax rates low and regulations predictable will give business owners confidence to expand and add workers.

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While Brown and Warren’s rhetorical differences are muddled on some issues, on the jobs problem they largely mirror the basic divide between the political parties on the role of government in putting people back to work.

Neither candidate’s specific proposals break new ground.

Warren has for months listed a detailed plan on her website. The centerpiece closely mirrors President Obama’s proposals, focusing on a $100 billion “Rebuild Now” plan designed to infuse money into the economy in the short term and create infrastructure aimed at helping businesses expand in the long term.

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Despite her reputation for fighting for more regulation of Wall Street, Warren says she would simplify rules that govern small businesses. She says that many of those rules give a competitive advantage to bigger businesses that can better figure out how to exploit them.

Warren’s jobs agenda takes notice of her support from organized labor, with a plank on so-called card-check legislation, a longtime objective of organized labor that would make it easier to form unions. Unions, she says, are the bedrock of good, middle-class jobs.

Brown, a Republican, includes few specific prescriptions in the jobs section of his campaign website, instead referring back to plans that have been on his US Senate website since early last year, some of which have since been signed into law by President Obama.

But the campaign, when asked by the Globe for his jobs agenda last week, provided an eight-point plan that melds a variety of the senator’s positions and proposals. The plan is intended to reinforce Brown’s credentials as a bipartisan figure, with half of his proposals designed to work with a Republican president and half crafted to appeal to a Democrat.

They include job-training proposals that dovetail with Obama’s agenda and support for the Keystone oil pipeline between Canada and the United States, which has been held up by the Obama administration and is opposed by Warren.

“The biggest challenge I find is the lack of regulatory and tax certainty,” Brown said last week during a call to a Springfield radio show. “Businesses don’t know what’s next, and every single time the federal government and the state government have a problem, they want to take more money out of people’s pockets, and that’s a huge difference between my opponent and me.”

Warren, a Democrat, often talks about her belief that government has a more direct role.

“We need to invest in roads and bridges and infrastructure. We need to invest in basic research,” she said recently.

Brown often tells voters that Warren’s proposals to raise taxes and her opposition to the oil pipeline would cripple the jobs market. Warren hammers Brown’s votes to block Democratic jobs bills, contending they prevented hiring and payroll tax cuts.

In the Senate, Brown worked on several issues related to jobs: the repeal of a 3 percent withholding tax for government contractors; a tax credit for businesses that hire out-of-work veterans; and a “crowdfunding bill” that makes it easier for start-up businesses to raise up to $1 million in capital over the Internet.

His eight-point plan includes four areas intended to garner support under an Obama administration. Among them are a bill, introduced in 2011, to offer paid job training at private businesses for people receiving unemployment insurance, a few measures to help women-owned businesses get more government contracts, support for a Democratic measure to offer tax credits to companies that return jobs from overseas, and tax credits for wind energy producers.

Brown also has four areas intended to find favor in a Mitt Romney presidency. They include the repeal of the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices included in Obama’s health care law, the North American oil pipeline, and a crackdown on Chinese trade practices. Brown also includes his support for a balanced budget amendment, under the theory that it will signal stability to the investment community.

Warren has seven points in her plan. She says the infusion of government spending would not raise the deficit because it relies mostly on taxes she has already proposed on the wealthy, as well as on the elimination of tax breaks for corporate jets and public investment in oil and gas development.

The bulk of the Warren plan comes from Obama’s 2011 jobs plan. It includes $50 billion to upgrade airports, roads, and transit, $30 billion to rebuild schools, $10 billion to make wireless broadband available to 98 percent of the country, and $10 billion to create an “infrastructure bank.”

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com.
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