SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch said last month that if the Republicans take control of the Senate, the new majority leader might turn some of the procedural rule changes the Democrats passed against them.
"I wouldn't blame him if he did because a lesson needs to be taught here," the seven-term senator told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards in October.
After Tuesday's midterm election that handed the Senate to the GOP, Hatch sounded a more conciliatory note, saying, "We will treat our friends the Democrats better than they treated us."
Matthew Burbank, a University of Utah political science professor, suspects it will be a little of both as likely new Senate majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., succeeds Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Burbank said he has no doubt that longstanding members of the Senate who don't like what the Democrats have done with filibusters and other procedural rules want to send a message. Democrats did eliminate the use of filibusters for all presidential nominees except to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I think there will be, quite honestly, some effort to try to punish the Democrats if they can do that," he said.
On the other hand, Burbank said, Hatch doesn't seem to recognize that Republicans have been playing as many games with filibusters as the Democrats have tried to overcome.
"It's not as if this is a one-sided problem," he said.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon threw down the gauntlet for Hatch, who's in line to head the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and his fellow Republicans.
“People have been blaming Harry Reid for all the problems. Now it’s your turn. See what you can do. See if you can do any better,” he said.
Now in the Senate majority, Hatch and first-term Utah Sen. Mike Lee have an opportunity to push some of the issues on their agendas. Hatch also stands to become president pro tem of the Senate, third in line of succession to the presidency behind the vice president and the U.S. House speaker.
"The trick for both of them, however, is that it's not going to be an easy task to figure out how you create a legislative agenda that will work for Republicans, how you work with the House and how you can get things past the president," Burbank said.
In what was billed as a major policy speech at the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara, California, last month, Hatch outlined five proposals he believes should be central to a Republican Senate majority.
Topping the list is replacing the Affordable Care Act commonly called Obamacare with a program that empowers states to provide coverage and cut costs. Hatch also wants to reform the tax code, reduce onerous federal regulations, increase high-tech innovation and expand economic opportunity and reinvent the public safety net.
Lee, also speaking at the Reagan Ranch in August, called for Republicans to adopt a concrete agenda based on conservative principles including tax reduction.
Burbank said Hatch would be an important player in tax reform and that's something Republicans might be able to do because there is some common ground with President Barack Obama, who wants to deal with the corporate tax rate.
McConnell, Wednesday, said Republicans will seek common ground with the president, citing foreign trade and also possible tax changes. That could put Hatch in a powerful position to be an advocate for tax change. McConnell noted that the Senate will not have the votes to overcome a presidential veto so the gains could be incremental.
Hatch said teaching the Democrats a lesson might not be a good thing because Republicans don't have the White House, and Obama could veto every bill they pass. But, he said, that might not matter.
"We will pass bill after bill after bill and make cases for those bills, and if he vetoes and vetoes and vetoes, people will catch on as to what kind of leadership this current president is capable of," he said.
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