If Sen. Orrin Hatch wins re-election, his influence could skyrocket
"In the eventual compromise concerning the health care reform law, Baucus emphasized rural health — providing health services to rural areas," Lopach said. "When he's in the state he visits rural areas, he comments on rural health needs. That's how he's been important."
"The chair of Senate Finance Committee is one of the most powerful positions in Washington," adds Peter Wallison, co-director of American Enterprise Institute's program on financial policy studies. "Senator Baucus was very influential in structuring (Obamacare), but if Senator Hatch had been in that position Obamacare would not have been adopted."
Thomas Mann, senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings Institute, says the Senate Finance Committee is "arguably the most important committee in the Senate." However, he is nonplussed about the practical significance of any Senate committee amid the current political climate.
"Are Senate committees very influential these days? Not especially," Mann says. "The Senate has been turned into such a partisan institution whose primary motivation is permanent campaign. … The institution itself is so partisan, is so subject to filibusters on virtually anything it does, anything that gets accomplished has to be centrally directed, which means the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is only one among many important players."
To become chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Hatch needs to win re-election in 2012 and hope Republicans gain a majority in the Senate. There are now 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy estimates the likelihood of a Republican takeover in the Senate next year as 60 percent to 70 percent.
"The Senate Finance Committee is an absolutely powerful committee," Hatch told the Deseret News earlier this year. "I am the Republican leader on the committee, and I intend to take it over in 2013 if the Republicans become the majority — and I think we have a good chance of becoming the majority. There are 23 Democrats up for re-election and only 10 Republicans, so we have a reasonable chance of taking over."
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