Senate race could see Liljenquist, Hatch tangle on health care

Published November 28, 2011 10:56 am
Politics • Senator's spokesman calls Dan Liljenquist's criticism of children's insurance plan hypocritical because he voted to expand it.
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During a recent media blitz in Washington, D.C., Dan Liljenquist, a state senator from Utah, went after Sen. Orrin Hatch, arguing he has done more than any other Republican to promote nationalized health care.

Hatch's campaign points out that Liljenquist has a record of his own, one that they say conflicts with his criticism and undermines his authenticity.

The skirmish is the first between these potential 2012 opponents. Liljenquist, a Republican, says he won't make an official decision until early next year, but he has prepared for a possible run for Hatch's seat. He was in Washington last week to pick up an award from Governing magazine and discussed the potential race with a host of political reporters from The Salt Lake Tribune, Politico and other publications.

In those interviews, he argued that Hatch is not committed to returning power to the states, focusing on the State Children's Health Insurance Program that Hatch spearheaded in 1997. That program, which pays for health coverage for poor children, has come under fire from tea party Republicans who see it as a step toward a national takeover of health insurance. Liljenquist went as far as to call it "unconstitutional."

"He is the one who passed national children's health care. That is a key difference between him and me," Liljenquist said on Monday. "I've been working to bring these programs back to the states."

Hatch's campaign noted that Liljenquist voted for a 2009 state bill that would shorten the wait for legal immigrant children looking to access SCHIP. That bill passed the state Senate on a vote of 15 to 14, but failed in the House.

"It is extremely hypocritical for Senator Liljenquist to criticize Senator Hatch for SCHIP when he was actually one of the deciding votes in the Senate to expand the program," said Hatch campaign spokeswoman Evelyn Call. "It is interesting he is voting for something he thinks is unconstitutional."

Liljenquist said that vote took place only a few weeks after he took office and if he had to do it over again, he would vote against that legislation.

"Sometimes you get them wrong, and that is one I would change," he said. "As I've looked at that program, I've worked in subsequent years to rein in it."

Liljenquist said he is comfortable comparing his voting record with Hatch's, arguing that Hatch not only sponsored SCHIP, but also supported the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan and an early 1990s GOP bill that was the first to require all Americans to buy health insurance, a controversial program known as the individual mandate.

Hatch's campaign said that after further review, the senator believes the individual mandate is unconstitutional and has fought repeatedly to remove it from the health reform law passed under President Barack Obama.

"Dan Liljenquist hasn't even announced his candidacy and he has already started running a negative campaign," Call said. "The truth of the matter is Senator Hatch has been one of the most staunch opponents to Obamacare and the individual mandate."

Other than Liljenquist, state GOP Rep. Chris Herrod is considering a run against Hatch. On the Democratic side, XMission founder Pete Ashdown has announced his candidacy. Ashdown ran against Hatch in 2006.

mcanham@sltrib.comTwitter: @mattcanham



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