In an appearance on cable television Friday, Sen. Orrin Hatch said he believed Congress would avoid the nation’s first default by agreeing to a short-term extension of the government’s debt limit, a move he supported.
But just hours later, the senator from Utah gave a speech on the Senate floor reiterating his previous pledge to oppose any increase that is not tied to the passage of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
The seemingly contradictory statements came on the same day that the Senate killed Hatch’s preferred option — what the Republicans have dubbed their "cut, cap and balance" bill, supported by all five of Utah’s members of Congress, including Democrat Jim Matheson.
I feel for Hatch. Like many fiscal issues right now, the debt ceiling debate left reality a little while ago, and now the Tea Party/far right is forcing Hatch to take a position (telegraphed by his speech in the Senate) that he knows cannot possibly be tenable in reality (thus his admission on Fox News).
He's in a tough spot. At this point, the word is that any Republican that compromises on the debt ceiling issue is in trouble. From the AP via the Miami Herald:
Call it GOP Primary Fear. A major hurdle to breaking the federal debt-ceiling impasse is the worry by House Republicans that they will invite primary election challenges from the right if they give ground to Democrats on the issue of higher tax revenues...The challenger would not be a Democrat. It would be a fellow Republican, in a spring or summer primary that most voters would ignore. That could leave the field mainly to ideological die-hards, often with tea party ties and little appetite for compromise.
It's the atmosphere that many House freshmen rode to victory last year, and that cost two GOP senators their party's nomination.
What the article doesn't say, of course, is that one of the two Republican senators that got fragged was none other than Utah's own Bob Bennett.
Utah's Tea Party movement is well-coordinated, very, very far right, and given to administering ideological purity tests. With that cloud looming over Hatch, solving real life problems that involve ugly compromise and political sausage-making might seem suicidal. Whatever else he might be, Hatch is very sharp, and very committed to his own political survival*.
* - Any person who knows Utah politics, no matter their ideological bent, will admit that it's hilarious that Hatch began his 35-year Senate career by roasting his then-opponent, Frank Moss, for his 18-year incumbency.