Rolly: Hatch a champion of the little guy? Give me a break, senator

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) In this Nov. 13, 2017, photo, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, arrives as the tax-writing panel begins work on overhauling the nation's tax code, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Millions would forgo coverage if Congress repeals the unpopular requirement that Americans get health insurance, gambling with their own wellbeing and boosting premiums for others. Just as important, the drive by GOP senators to undo “Obamacare’s” coverage requirement fits in with Trump administration efforts to write regulations allowing for plans with limited benefits and lower premiums.

Sen. Orrin Hatch got angry last week when Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio had the temerity to suggest the Republican tax bill was a giveaway to the rich that eventually would hurt the poor and middle class.

“I come from poor people,” the Utah Republican blustered. “And I’ve been here working my whole stinkin’ career for people who don’t have a chance. And I really resent anybody saying that I’m just doing this for the rich. Give me a break.”

The exchange came during a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, which Hatch heads, on a Senate tax bill that would do exactly what Brown said it would.

My Salt Lake Tribune colleague Robert Gehrke offered a detailed analysis of the GOP proposal in a column last week that shows how the plan is a massive giveaway to the superwealthy and corporations while saddling the middle class with a tax increase by doing away with several deductions enjoyed by meager wage earners because the offsetting benefits to that class currently in the bill would expire in a few years.

The temporary benefits to the middle class, Gehrke points out, would eventually expire so Republicans can show the tax cut to the rich wouldn’t add more than $1.5 trillion to the national debt. Under Senate budget rules, such a significant jump essentially would require 60 votes to pass the measure. If, by clever accounting and eventually raising taxes for the less privileged, the debt goes up below that amount, Hatch needs only 50 votes for the bill.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote that Hatch blew up at Brown because the Ohio Democrat noted how disingenuous the Republicans’ assertion is that big tax cuts for the rich and corporations would grow wages for the working class. Brown did so because GOP senators had rejected an amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that would undo the tax cuts on corporations if wages did not grow.

Brown was calling the Republicans’ bluff, and Hatch didn’t like it.

But let’s examine Hatch’s insistence that he’s worked for the little guy his “whole stinkin’ career” and determine just how genuine his words are — and have been.

It’s true that Hatch co-sponsored with the late liberal icon Ted Kennedy the Children’s Health Insurance Program that provides subsidized health insurance for low-income children and has been largely successful, although the number of uninsured children continued going up.

Hatch also teamed with then-Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to make it easier for seniors to access generic drugs, helping millions of Americans.

But those efforts pale in comparison to what the Utah senator has done for the big guys, namely the pharmaceutical industry and dietary supplement makers.

Along with his continued efforts to fight regulations on supplements — which has become a multibillion-dollar industry — Hatch was a strong supporter of the $400 billion Medicare Prescription Drug Modernization Act in 2003 that critics have called a massive giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry.

Prescription drugs in the United States are the most expensive of anywhere in the world, partly because Medicare cannot negotiate prices with the drugmakers like other countries do.

So much for helping the little guy.

Hatch’s political campaign fund has received $587,909 from the pharmaceutical industry, along with $592,312 from the securities and investment sector in the past five years, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The Washington Times reported in 2011 that five pharmaceutical companies and the industry’s main lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), gave a combined $172,500 to the Utah Families Foundation, a charity Hatch helped found.

And PhRMA in 2011 donated $750,000 to Freedom Path, a pro-Hatch super political action committee formed during his most recent run for re-election.

Hatch also lambasted Brown in the committee hearing for not trying to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans.

Really? Hatch could have been looking in the mirror when he said that.

Remember when Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., questioned Hatch during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last June about the secrecy surrounding the GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare?

“We have no idea what’s being proposed,” McCaskill said. “There’s a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making these decisions.”

Hatch responded with a deer-in-the-headlights kind of a look.

So much for working together.

When Democrats controlled the Senate in 2013 and Republicans had used the filibuster to block President Barack Obama’s appointments with unprecedented frequency, Hatch voted against Democratic rules reforms, which eliminated the use of the filibuster on executive branch nominees and judicial picks other than to the Supreme Court.

But after Republicans gained Senate control in the 2014 election, Hatch argued against restoring the filibuster, a tool that then would have been available to the Democratic minority.

Just this year, the Republicans did away with the 60-vote rule for Supreme Court nominees so Donald Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, could be confirmed with a majority vote.

That, of course, was after the GOP majority refused even to hold a hearing on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

If all that seems disingenuous, remember the statement candidate Hatch made in 1976, when he was running against Democratic incumbent Frank Moss:

“What do you call a senator who has been in Washington for 18 years? You call him home.”

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Staff photos of the Salt Lake Tribune staff. Paul Rolly.