Sen. Orrin Hatch has a prescription for our government’s ills. It is, sadly, a vague agenda of toothless resolutions and go-nowhere message bills. His opinion piece in the Standard-Examiner today is loaded, of course, with the expected attacks on liberals and big spenders that he’s been honing for three decades in Washington.
Hatch brags that in the new Congress of 2011, he’s just the man to stop the insanity: “When I become the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee — arguably the most powerful committee in Congress — in January, I will be ideally positioned to make an even greater difference for Utahns and all Americans in bringing fiscal sanity back to Washington.”
What strikes me most about Hatch’s self-absorbed column is that a man who has been in the U.S. Senate for 34 years cannot, in his call for a cure, name one specific program that should be eliminated or drastically cut to achieve his stated target of balancing the budget. Sure, he’s going after the new health care law, but that’s not even part of the fiscal argument yet. What about existing programs?
He calls for a federal hiring freeze. That sounds great, but it would not begin to get at the basic problems of government bloat: entrenched agencies and bureaucracies and programs that have eternal lives of their own and for all intents and purposes are immune to congressional rhetoric. It falls short, almost laughably, of advocating any tough cuts that would be controversial.
Hatch also isn’t naming specific targets for cuts because his constituents probably would not want big reductions in areas that would have to be savaged to make real headway toward a balanced budget: Defense, troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, federal highway and bridge funding and agricultural subsidies, not to mention Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The budget balancing question has been studied in depth, but most people in Congress aren’t interested in details. The hot-air group includes most Tea Party candidates, including Sen.-elect Mike Lee, who gleefully spoke of a 40 percent government spending cut without saying how it would be done.
Hatch has this all down to a science. You wave around an ax threatening to cut federal spending, never really accomplishing anything significant, all the while demonizing the other political party. This ensures a projected image of faux fiscal conservatism and therefore longevity in the Senate from Utah, as Hatch had demonstrated since 1976.
Oddly, he seems to be relying on the same script in his preparations for re-election in 2012. But with the Tea Party-controlled Utah Republican electoral process facing him, Hatch might need to draw some real fiscal blood in the coming congressional session. As a seasoned political creature, Hatch must realize he has no Tea Party street cred.