Hatch to take on new finance role

But challenge by Chaffetz could limit senator's term

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 16 2010 10:40 p.m. MST

Sen. Orrin Hatch

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is about to get a new assignment as a direct result of term limits.

Talk about your textbook case of irony.

At the commencement of the 112th U.S. Congress in early January, Hatch will ascend to the role of ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has served as the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee for several years but is being forced out of the post because of a 6-year term limit for such positions that the Republican party internally imposes on its senators.

The sheer breadth of spending that falls under the auspices of the Senate Finance Committee is staggering. For example, three federal expenditures that combined to cost American taxpayers $1.428 trillion during fiscal year 2009 — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — are all within the committee's jurisdiction. As the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee in a Democrat-controlled Senate, Hatch will set the GOP's agenda and work in tandem with committee chair Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

"The Finance Committee is arguably the most important committee back there in the Senate," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. "For (Hatch) to have a minority leadership role is big."

With Hatch up for reelection in 2012, how he performs in his new post will play an integral role in determining whether his political career survives to realize a seventh term or falls prey to the voracious ambition of an up-and-comer like Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

The most pressing issue for Hatch on the Finance Committee is to ensure that the Bush-era tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 set to expire on Jan. 1 receive a reprieve in the form of an extension lasting at least two years. Even though Hatch hasn't officially become the committee's ranking Republican, he's already flexing his leadership by strongly speaking out in favor of extending the tax cuts.

"I think we have to stop these tax hikes that are set to hit every American," Hatch said during a recent phone interview with the Deseret News. "It would be the largest tax increase in history. … It's a matter of great concern."

Of less urgency but equal import to Hatch are lowering corporate tax rates, implementing research-and-development tax credits and simultaneously capping the estate tax at 35 percent while raising its exception levels.

Last week co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson of President Barrack Obama's bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released preliminary proposals for reigning in the national debt, a topic squarely within the scope of the Senate Finance Committee.

Although Hatch hedges on a few of the Bowles-Simpson recommendations — for instance, he doesn't endorse their plan for deep cuts to defense spending — the senator generally agrees with most of the co-chairs' proposals such as slashing the corporate tax rate, cutting government spending and restructuring federal tax revenue streams.

"We need to get the corporate tax rates down," Hatch said. "They're currently at 35 percent, and this president wants to go to over 40 percent. Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson are both (my) friends … and they're suggesting that we reduce corporate tax rates down to 26 percent. That would make us more competitive. We're losing a lot of our international businesses because of our stupid tax structure.

"To give you an illustration, back in 1980, of the 50 largest corporations in the world 41 of them were U.S. corporations. Today, 30 years later, of the 50 largest corporations we only have 16. That's because we've taxed our people and made it so difficult to do business in the country that they've left."

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