Orrin Hatch and why elections have consequences

at 12:50 PM ET, 07/23/2012

Is the old Orrin Hatch back?


In this Thursday, June 28, 2012 photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talks with The Associated Press at his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. With his re-election to a seventh term all but assured, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch can think about his legacy. He’s very clear about what he wants: a deal that restructures the tax code while also slowing and even stopping the government’s accumulation of debt. To get it, he says he’ll practice the art of compromise. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
The Utah Republican Senator, who survived a tea party challenge last month by focusing on his conservatism and voting in lockstep with his party’s ideological right wing over the last two years, appears to be shifting back into deal-maker mode, according to an AP report Monday. But Hatch’s spokeswoman is disputing the story.

Regardless, though, the situation proves that old political adage: Elections have consequences.

Hatch told the AP in a story published Monday that, if he is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee next year, he would be be looking to strike a bargain on re-writing the nation’s tax code, and he acknowledged that concessions will be necessary.

“Neither side is going to get everything they want,” Hatch told AP. “But it is important that we move ahead, and that we do the art of the doable to pull this country out of the fiscal morass it’s in. And I think we can.”

The AP story says Hatch, in the words of the reporter, promises to “practice the art of compromise over the take-my-marbles-and-leave mentality that has tied up Congress in recent years” and contrasts it with his 2012 campaign, which stressed his uncompromising conservative principles.

Hatch’s office this morning is crying foul, saying the report took things too far and that nobody believes the country’s problems can get solved without some compromise — particularly in a Senate where 60 out of 100 votes are needed to pass basically anything.

“It’s a little frustrating, because Senator Hatch never – not once – said anything that would’ve lead anyone to come to the conclusion this story came to. Not once. Frankly, there was far too much editorializing in the copy,” said Hatch spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier. She added: “The insinuation that the only reason he’s conservative is because he was running is offensive and stands in sharp contrast with his record. You don’t get a 90 percent lifetime [American Conservative Union] rating for nothing.”

But Hatch’s words are likely to raise eyebrows in the tea party and fiscally conservative community.

This is, after after all, a powerful potential Senate chairman whom some on the right have viewed with suspicion in recent years. As the AP story notes, Hatch has a 100 percent vote rating with the ACU over the last two years, but prior to that was seen as more of a deal-maker. (His longtime friendship with the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy was a point of irritation for many conservatives.)

In truth, Hatch has never really been seen as a moderate, but merely being insufficiently conservative was enough to take down his Utah colleague, former senator Robert Bennett at the 2010 state party convention.

And, emphasizing compromise wasn’t exactly how Hatch overcame his primary fight with former state senator Dan Liljenquist.

Suffice it to say: If Hatch had made the same remarks he made in the AP story during the primary season, it might have given Liljenquist more momentum than the challenger was ever able to muster.

For now, the right isn’t getting too worked up, though.

The Club for Growth, which toyed with opposing Hatch this year but never got overly involved, hasn’t commented on what Hatch said.

And the Tea Party Express, whose backing of Hatch rubbed some on the right the wrong way, is standing by its man.

“There is this great misconception that the tea party opposes compromise,” said group founder Sal Russo. “For example, we supported the lame duck bill that extending the Bush tax cuts even though we thought some of the spending was atrocious. You have to be able to count your votes and set achievable goals.”

Make no mistake, though: Hatch has a major role to play in future negotiations on budget and tax issues. And the Club for Growth and the tea party will be watching.

Unfortunately for them, Hatch isn’t up for reelection again until 2018 now. So even if the 78-year old has designs on an eighth term in the Senate, it’s going to be a long time before he would pay a price for the compromises of 2012 or 2013.

 
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