Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who was once the darling of right-wing conservatives and considered one of their top spokesmen, is currently their Public Enemy No. 1. As Ripley would say, believe it or not.

All it took for such conservatives to switch from dreaming of Hatch in the White House to dumping him in the dog house was his decision to compromise with liberal Democrats on child-care legislation and other supposedly liberal issues.That has conservative groups from Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum to think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation and the Family Research Council hopping mad and depicting Hatch as a Benedict Arnold.

They describe him and his actions with adjectives including "treacherous," "disappointing," "off-the-wall," "undermining," "frustrating," "dangerous," "anti-family" and "abhorrent."

Hatch is even being attacked by other conservative congressmen in his own party - including a slap by one in his own Utah delegation.

For example, Rep. Howard C. Nielson, R-Utah, has let it be known he doesn't support Hatch's child-care stand and even urged those at a recent Utah County Republican Convention to write Hatch if they agreed with Nielson. And the Republican Study Committee, a think tank supported by 125 Republican House members, this week also attacked Hatch's compromising with Democrats.

Hatch's response to all of that is, "The far right, like the far left, loves to feed on its own. And it's good at it. That's what is happening now. I just try to smile, ignore it and go on with my work."

He claims the attacks result because many right-wing conservatives ignore good ideas coming from liberals. And they don't like Hatch associating with them. They don't even want him working on anything with Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., because she supports abortion.

"They think their way is the only way. They prefer crashing in flame and glory and holding true to their ideals. I won't abandon my principles, but I do try to work out reasonable compromises and actually get some legislation passed."

He says the right wing has attacked its own leaders before, even Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. But he admits this is the first time conservatives have really turned on him.

Conservatives say they have long questioned why Hatch was not more confrontational with liberals in his job as ranking Republican on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. But their real break with him came when he compromised on child care with Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Hatch vowed to support the Democrats' idea of directly subsidizing child-care centers and making them meet some sort of minimum standards - although he wants state standards and Democrats want federal standards. In return, Democrats pledged to support Hatch's proposal to give low-income families tax credits to pay for child care - even if one parent stays home.

Schlafly - who was once a strong ally of Hatch on such issues as opposing the Equal Rights Amendment - gives an example of the criticism now leveled against him.

She told the Deseret News, "It was dreadful of him to endorse the Dodd-Kennedy government baby-sitting bill. It's highly discriminatory . . . It's 62 pages of offensive, discriminatory, overreaching, costly, unacceptable legislation. There's not one good thing in it."

She said Hatch "has undercut President Bush. He has undercut the majority of Republicans. And he has undercut the pro-family movement."

Hatch said he tried to explain his position to Schlafly, but "it was like talking to a brick wall." He said many conservatives believe women should stay home and that government should provide no day-care aid.

Michael Schwartz, a researcher with the Free Congress Foundation, said, Hatch "has been on the wrong side of this issue right from the start. That's particularly damaging because Hatch has a great reputation as a pro-family type character and as a conservative.

"The Republicans other than Hatch are rather strongly united on this issue . . . and here's Orrin Hatch moving this stupid Swedenization of the family idea. It is most frustrating when he is acting so contrary to his reputation and his avowed principles."

Hatch responds that the most anti-family position possible would be to not help the 52 percent of women who work to obtain affordable and safe child care.

Robert Rector with the Heritage Foundation said Hatch's child-care stance "is totally abhorrent to the political groups that have supported Hatch and put him in office.

"The Dodd bill encourages mothers to leave the home. The only way in that bill that families can take full advantage of its benefits is to put their children in a licensed day-care center. If they don't, then they are just subsidizing the yuppies that make up to $45,000 a year who do."

Hatch responds that he is a major sponsor of President Bush's and other child-care bills to give tax credits to low-income families with children, even if one parent stays at home. He has not abandoned that while trying to seek compromises.

Elizabeth Kepley, director of government affairs for the Family Research Council, said her group is "disappointed" with Hatch's support of the ABC bill, and feels it would likely never pass without Hatch's support - but now it stands a good chance.

She said problems with it include that day-care centers sponsored by churches could not do such activities as offer prayers on food or tell Bible stories and still receive aid.

And all centers that want aid would have to be licensed and meet federal standards. She worries that could make them subject to new federal civil rights legislation that has many unanswered questions about it. "For example, could it require a church without women elders to ordain women? There are many questions that will be answered only in court, and we would hate to see small church day-care centers dragged into court."

Hatch said he doesn't see a problem with that. Churches have participated for years without problems in such federal programs as Head Start and Meals on Wheels, he said. While prayers and religious instruction would not be allowed, churches still would not have to remove religious symbols as Democrats had once proposed.

Utah's Nielson is among those conservatives who said child care really is not the responsibility of the federal government, but the responsibility of the person who needs it. He recently urged a Utah County Republican convention to write Hatch if they agreed. Hatch said he received "very few" letters.

The Republican Study Committee, funded by 125 conservative House Republicans, this week attacked the ABC bill and Hatch's support of it.

Staff members there said congressmen affiliated with that group say such things as "Hatch is giving conservatives fits," "he is a lone wolf on this issue," and "he must be doing things like this to convince liberals like Ted Kennedy that he is a compassionate liberal so they will vote for his nomination to a Supreme Court seat."

Hatch calls such claims "ridiculous."

He even notes, for example, that he is removing himself from any possible consideration for a Supreme Court nomination for the next two years because he plans to push a salary increase for judges. By law, anyone who votes to increase a salary for a judicial position cannot be appointed to it during the Congress that the vote occurred.

"I think all this will eventually blow over . . . ."

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