Cliff Owen, AP
In this Thursday, June 28, 2012 photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talks with The Associated Press at his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. With his re-election to a seventh term all but assured, Hatch can think about his legacy. He’s very clear about what he wants: a deal that restructures the tax code while also slowing and even stopping the government’s accumulation of debt. To get it, he says he’ll practice the art of compromise. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch took the oath of office in the U.S. Senate on Thursday for the seventh and final time.

Hatch, who has served since 1977, is now the most senior Republican in the Senate. Prior to being re-elected in November, the 78-year-old senator said this would be his last term.

"I never thought it would come to that, but I'm honored to be the most senior Republican," Hatch said. "It makes me feel a great debt of obligation that I need to step it up and do even better in this last six-year term, and I'll be doing everything I possibly can."

Hatch also is second overall in Senate seniority behind Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has served since 1975.

Hatch broke ranks with the rest of Utah's congressional delegation in voting for the New Year's Day deal that averted the "fiscal cliff." Although he said there are things in the bill he didn't like, it prevented the largest tax increase in U.S. history, while imposing the largest tax reduction in history.

A big fight over cutting federal spending still looms, Hatch said.

"I've never changed the approach I take. I do what I think is right. When I think compromise is the best thing we could do, naturally I'm going to compromise rather than just go down in flames," he said.

Hatch campaigned on becoming chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee had the GOP won a majority in the Senate. That didn't happen, but he remains the committee's ranking Republican.

"Let me tell you, I'm not in this position on the Finance Committee for fun," he said. "This is a position where we're either going to save the country or we're not. I intend help bring people together and get it saved."

Utah's newest member of Congress — Republican Rep. Chris Stewart in the 2nd District — was also sworn in Thursday. He joins Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.


Twitter: dennisromboy