CASTLE DALE, Utah — U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz hasn't decided whether he'll seek Sen. Orrin Hatch's seat, but on Monday he sounded like a candidate as about 50 supporters gathered for a town hall meeting that turned into a rally for tea party politics.
Chaffetz, R-Utah, received multiple ovations for his conservative stances from a crowd frustrated with the spiraling federal debt and what they see as a congressional failure to address it. They also repeatedly thanked him for standing strong on the debt ceiling debate by voting against multiple bills, including one sponsored by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the final compromise package.
Voting against the Boehner bill was especially difficult, Chaffetz said, because the speaker had been supportive of the GOP-backed Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which would have trimmed $111 billion in fiscal year 2012, place caps on future spending and require the passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment before the debt ceiling could be increased. Democrats said the bill, which failed to pass the Senate, would have put funding for such programs as Medicaid and Medicare at risk.
But Chaffetz said he couldn't support anything that appointed a "super committee" to decide the cuts, increased spending or didn't include a balanced budget amendment.
"We're not one good tax increase away from prosperity," Chaffetz said.
Monday's town hall in Castle Dale was the first of five events Chaffetz is hosting statewide this week. Only one event is in his current congressional district, primarily because he is still considering a challenge to the six-term senator.
Chaffetz leveled multiple attacks against Hatch's position on the debt ceiling. While Hatch was a lead sponsor for the constitutional balanced budget amendment, Chaffetz said this is the first time the senator objected to the debt ceiling increase.
"You can't call yourself Mr. Balanced Budget Amendment and you can't call yourself conservative if you vote to raise the debt ceiling 26 times and then suddenly oppose it," Chaffetz said.
He said Hatch was part of the problem because he supported spending earmarks instead of standing against tradition to lower the debt. Chaffetz has refused earmarks for his district since being elected in 2008, bringing criticism from Hatch.
While Monday's crowd seemed to adore Chaffetz, there was still some hesitation about whether he should challenge Hatch. For many people, Hatch has a record of conservatism and seniority that would be difficult for to match.
"I'm not totally disenchanted with Hatch," said Jerry Stotler. "He's got a very powerful position ... but he's a politician. I'm still reviewing his record."
Brian Dawes, however, said Hatch's seniority may not be enough to justify keeping him in the Senate.
"At some point, the country has to wake up and decide they can't stick with the status quo," Dawes said.