Paul S. Edwards: Deseret News dialogue with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch

Published: Sunday, Oct. 2 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Senator Orrin Hatch talks with delegates during the 2011 Republican State Convention Saturday, June 18, 2011 at South Towne Exposition Center.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Max Baccus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has called the committee to order. Sitting next to him is the ranking Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah.

The pound of the gavel quiets voices, but it doesn't stop the commotion throughout the magisterial committee room.

Whether it is young staff members scurrying with notes for their senators, or senators themselves wandering in and out, the elegantly paneled room — home to arguably the most important legislative committee in the world because of its jurisdiction over the tax and spending authority of the United States — is a hive of activity as it considers complex issues of international tax reform.

But one person stays raptly focused on the entire discussion and the panel of tax experts that have assembled. Not Baccus, who, after making an opening statement announces he must attend to other business. Instead, it is Hatch, to whom Baccus hands the gavel as he leaves.

Given how the 2012 senatorial campaign seems to be lining up in favor of Republicans, the symbolism in Baccus's handing over the gavel to Hatch on a day of mundane business in the Senate cannot be lost to close observers of Washington. Depending on the outcome of the 2012 election, it is possible that Hatch could find himself as chair of the Finance Committee in just over a year.

In order to appreciate better what such a switch could mean for Hatch and for Utah, the Deseret News spent the better part of a rainy September day with Hatch.

Not many "light days"

By the time we caught up with Hatch in his tastefully appointed office at 8:30 a.m. he had already been up almost four hours. He regularly rises before dawn to exercise on his elliptical and spend a few moments with his wife Elaine before getting to his senatorial office by seven.

His staff wanders in about the time we do, but Hatch has already watched some of the early morning news, read several major newspapers and reviewed memos prepared by his staff. He has also appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"It's a very, very busy life, but I wouldn't have it any other way," says Hatch, who also tells us (warns us?) that "This is a typical day. I don't get many light days. It is hard to be prepared for one of these days because there are so many important interactions."

Indeed.

Before the day is through Hatch will have chaired a session of the Finance Committee on international corporate tax reform, addressed a press conference on the economic agenda for the Western Caucus, spoken on the floor of the Senate in favor of a pending overhaul of the U.S. patent system, attended a confidential briefing regarding the background of judicial appointees, raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Republican Senatorial Committee, met with constituents, voted on a major piece of legislation and attended a joint session of Congress to hear President Barack Obama present his jobs package.

And, because of his senatorial commitments, he will have reluctantly declined a plea from his wife Elaine to help deal with a flooding basement in their Oakton, Va., residence. (We understand that his son was able to help out).

Expertise

But throughout his hectic day, the surprisingly soft-spoken Senator is indefatigable, ever gracious and eager to engage on the substance and complexities of fiscal policy, free speech, religious liberty, public lands, energy development, tax law, the patent system and embryonic cell research.

And what shines through in his account is the daily challenge of staying on top of the complexity of the substantive issues while also balancing the delicate politics.

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