Negotiations this week over sweeping changes to federal banking regulation may either prove the power of “41” or offer a hint as to its limitations. When Massachusetts made Scott Brown the 41st Republican in U.S. Senate, his most strident supporters expected his arrival would bring Democrats' agenda to a halt. While he is certainly a keystone in the Republican wall, we once again see that politics is more complicated than mathematics.

Negotiations this week over sweeping changes to federal banking regulation may either prove the power of “41” or offer a hint as to its limitations.

When Massachusetts made Scott Brown the 41st Republican in U.S. Senate, his most strident supporters expected his arrival would bring Democrats' agenda to a halt.

While he is certainly a keystone in the Republican wall, we once again see that politics is more complicated than mathematics.

The measure now before the Senate creates a new consumer lending protection agency within the Federal Reserve and gives the government the power to systematically wind down failing financial institutions rather than just letting them collapse.

Last week Brown joined his 40 Republican Senate colleagues in signing a letter opposing the reform bill taking shape in the Senate Banking Committee, saying it cleared the way for “endless bailouts.”

“This is the first time the power of 41 is being put on the table. It’s having an effect,” said Eric Ueland, a former top Republican aide in the Senate, pointing out that until Brown was elected, Democrats could pass bills without having to win over a single Republican.

That’s no longer possible, he said, “and in this new era I think the majority uneasily is adjusting itself to that fact.”

A week later, despite Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid saying the bill will move forward with or without GOP support, a somewhat less contentious mood has surfaced, along with talk of compromise.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said he was “heartened to hear that bipartisan talks have resumed in earnest” on a bill that at least some Republicans would find acceptable.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has been a welcome voice of reason in this debate, said not only is a filibuster now out of the question, he thinks the vote to bring the bill to the floor will be unanimous and that it will get 70 to 80 votes on final passage.

Some might say the threat of “41” forced Democrats to take Republican objections more seriously. Others suggest Republican willingness to work with the majority party on this issue may reflect the calculation that being seen as a friend of Wall Street is not politically prudent.

Then again, maybe the legislative process of compromise and consensus building simply worked the way it supposed to, making the dividing line less important.

This hint at bipartisanship may not last but, while it does, it’s a refreshing change from the nasty conduct seen during the health-care debate.

A recent Gallop poll showed only 23 percent of Americans approve of Congress’ job performance. We have to believe a fair portion of that disapproval is tied to the petulant and vitriolic tone with which Washington seems to be infected.

It would be welcome if voices of reason, such as Corker’s, set a new tone and “41” went back to just being a number.

The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.)