According to recently released rankings from the National Journal, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch has been responsible for passing more laws than anyone else serving in the United States Senate. During his 37-year tenure, Hatch has either sponsored or co-sponsored 742 bills that went on to become the law of the land.
To fully appreciate the significance of this achievement, one needs to consider that the federal government is inefficient by design.
People often complain about the arduous nature of lawmaking and lament that it’s impossible to get anything done. In doing so, they fail to recognize that gridlock is built into the system in order to avoid concentrations of power. History demonstrates that leaders with unlimited authority are capable of getting a great deal done, and certainly not all of it good.
Unchecked power leads to corruption and tyranny, and that is the outcome that American constitutional governance was created to avoid. That means that all legislative proposals need to navigate an unwieldy process that tempers extreme views and positions. Any proposal that survives the scrutiny of a bicameral legislature and receives the chief executive’s signature is therefore generally likely to reflect a national consensus.
Finding consensus requires compromise, a concept disagreeable to many on both ends of the political spectrum. Angry voices frequently dominate our political discussion, many of which belong to extremists demanding ideological purity above all else. Prodded by an increasingly divided electorate and party-system, many representatives are happy to provide speeches and rhetoric that rallies their party faithful, but without any actual advancement of their political goals.
For the most part, Hatch’s long record in office has shown him taking a different approach. In order to shepherd 742 bills into law, Utah’s senior senator has repeatedly reached out to those on the other side of the aisle. He has forged coalitions with Democrats and Republicans alike. Many of them might support him today on one issue and then fight him tomorrow on another issue.
Yet he has been able to maintain the relationships and credibility necessary to keep passing laws. This is consistent with one of the maxims of former President Ronald Reagan, who said that the “person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor."
All of our nation’s senators, representatives and our president should remember this important principle of legislative governance.