Sen. Hatch must oppose any proposal to increase taxes, conservatives insist

Conservatives are pressuring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to send a message to President Barack Obama’s deficit commission by saying he opposes any tax increases.

One group said the senator faces “political suicide” if he doesn’t take a strong stance against increased taxes.

Hatch, who is set to become the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, said he is likely to oppose any increases.

“Everybody knows I’m a tax cutter and not a tax increaser, so the odds are that I probably couldn’t support something that would increase taxes, especially given the amount of spending going on,” said Hatch.

Hatch, as the senior Republican on Finance, would have significant say over proposed tax increases, and conservatives believe he could send a message to the commission by taking a strong stance now.

“Sen. Hatch will be assuming the lead role on the Senate Finance Committee and he will be speaking for Republicans on taxes,” said Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.

“It makes sense for him to come out with a clear position now, especially since the commission has already met twice,” Sepp said.

Hatch has questioned the wisdom of raising taxes while the economy is struggling and has said he may reject proposed tax increases even if they are recommended by a strong majority of the commission.

But conservatives want a definitive answer before the 18-member commission releases its recommendations for reducing the deficit.

The panel will issue its findings by Dec. 1. While the Congress is not required to vote on the proposed package of spending cuts and tax increases, the recommendations are expected to have significant political momentum.

And Hatch could face a challenge from his right in the 2012 Utah Republican primary.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has said he will decide whether to run against Hatch by the fall of next year.

The Club for Growth, which spent nearly $200,000 to defeat Hatch’s home-state colleague, Sen. Bob Bennett (R), would also like Hatch to take a strong stance against tax increases.

“We’d like to get a commitment from all Republicans on the Finance panel to oppose new taxes,” said Andrew Roth, vice president for government affairs at the Club for Growth. “It would be political suicide for Orrin Hatch to not do so.”

Hatch says he will not make any commitment to block proposals from Obama’s deficit commission before he has a chance to review specific policy changes.

But Hatch says the Club for Growth can rest assured.

“I like the Club for Growth,” he said. “I don’t make commitments in advance until I see all the facts. I think they can pretty well rely that I don’t believe in increasing taxes at this time. I think we should reduce taxes.”

Hatch has burnished his conservative credentials in recent weeks by making strong statements against Obama’s agenda.

He penned an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune that bashed the Wall Street reform legislation as a proposal that would “stifle economic growth and job creation, strangle critical credit, send U.S. jobs overseas and add more burdensome, costly and misguided regulation onto the backs of struggling businesses.”

Hatch has also defended a new Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigrants from criticism by Obama administration officials. He said Arizona was forced to act because of the “catastrophic failure by the federal government to secure the border.”

Conservatives believe the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which Obama created by executive order, is likely to recommend tax increases.

“The commission gives you a Republican fingerprint on the murder weapon of tax increases,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative anti-tax group.

Norquist said the Republican co-chairman of the commission, former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), has a history of supporting proposals to cut spending and raise taxes intended to reduce the deficit.

Norquist noted that Simpson supported proposals in 1982 and 1990 that increased taxes but failed to rein in spending.

Norquist has spoken recently to Hatch and believes the lawmaker will hold the line against tax increases, if for no other reason than he saw Bennett get kicked off the GOP ballot in Utah by angry conservatives.

“Orrin Hatch is not going to tolerate a tax increase,” he said. “He’s a man of principle, he’s a solid Reagan Republican and he just saw Robert Bennett get whacked.”

Any recommendations to cut spending or increase taxes would have to be approved by 14 of the commission’s 18 members.

Obama has appointed six of the panel’s members. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have each appointed three commissioners.

GOP leaders in Congress have appointed six members of the commission.

This means that any proposed tax increases would have to win the support of at least two Republicans appointed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) or House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

Those Republican members are Sens. Judd Gregg (N.H.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Reps. Dave Camp (Mich.), Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Paul Ryan (Wis.).

Even so, Norquist believes it is “almost a certainty” the commission will suggest tax increases.

Hatch said even if it does make the recommendations with a big majority vote, he may reject the proposals.

“I’m certainly not going to be for something that doesn’t pass with honors, and I may not be for it even if it does,” Hatch said.