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Politics Complicates Hatch’s Finance Role

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“I’m no Bob Bennett,” Hatch told Bloomberg TV recently. “I think [voters] know that I’m not Bob Bennett. Bob was a conservative, but I’m more conservative than he is.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), who sits on the Finance Committee, said Republicans, including Hatch, are united in feeling they have a mandate from voters after the Nov. 2 elections.

“Given the election results, Sen. Baucus is going to have a whole lot less flexibility both on the committee and certainly on the floor,” Cornyn said. “And my hope is, and I think the hope of voters ... is we’ll have more consultation, more bipartisan cooperation, on things we can work on and less sort of ‘my way or the highway.’”

Even though Hatch has been willing to compromise on key issues and had a close friendship with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Republicans and Democrats said Hatch is not enamored of the idea of striking an agreement for the sake of having a deal. That was a repeated criticism of Grassley and Baucus.

Much of the criticism of Grassley, who has been accused of keeping fellow Republicans in the dark and crafting deals that did not meet conservatives’ demands, is not valid, Hatch said. Still, he seemed to acknowledge the perception that Grassley could be less than transparent.

“Hopefully, I can run a more open committee,” he said, referencing the closed-door health care talks Baucus and Grassley engaged in during the spring of 2009. 

Hatch was briefly involved in those talks as part of the “gang of seven” —  four Republicans and three Democrats. But Hatch removed himself when he said he realized he did not agree with the direction the group was going. Baucus “respected that,” Hatch said.

In a statement provided by his office, Baucus said he is confident the two will have a good working relationship and that the tradition of building consensus on the committee will continue. 

“Sen. Hatch and I both come from western states where practicality and pragmatism are a way of life,” he said. Baucus noted the cooperation he and Hatch have had on the research and development tax credit and on CHIP.

Hatch asserted that he has “never felt burned by” the chairman. In fact, Hatch says he feels “burned” by the White House instead, particularly on the CHIP deal. 

Hatch and Grassley bucked not only their party but also then-President George W. Bush in crafting the bipartisan agreement in 2008. But when President Barack Obama and a larger Senate Democratic majority came into office, the CHIP deal was scrapped.

“I think it was an arrogance of the White House,” Hatch said.

Still, Democrats say that if they have to have a more conservative Republican atop Finance, they would rather have Hatch than any other. 

“Anything that can get done will get done due in part to the Baucus-Hatch relationship,” one Senate Democratic aide said.

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