What’s the value of experience when it comes to representing Utah in Washington, D.C.?
That’s the question confronting Utah Republicans in the June 26 primary.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, 78, a senator for 36 years, maintains that his seniority will benefit the state and the nation.
Former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, 37, a Bountiful resident, says it’s time for a new generation of leadership and he’s the one to be the state’s next U.S. senator.
Hatch said his seniority will play a big part in pushing the Republican Party’s agenda when the next Congressional session begins, especially if Mitt Romney is elected president.
Hatch said he knows there are those who think 36 years is enough. He did say when he ran against then-Sen. Frank Moss that 18 years was enough.
“But everyone leaves the last part off, which is very unfair,” Hatch said. “I said 18 years is enough if you’re not voting in the best interest of Utah, and he wasn’t.”
For Liljenquist, it’s time for new leaders in Washington.
Some of that has happened as 49 new senators have been elected over the past seven years, he said.
“Our challenge is name recognition,” Liljenquist said. “We’re going up against an icon in the state of Utah. He’s been there longer than 60 percent of this state has been alive.”
Liljenquist said blaming the country’s woes on Sen. Mike Lee, who has been in office for two years, is wrong. Lee has been working in a Senate where a power struggle between the “establishment side, those who have been there for decades and the new people” has been going on.
Hatch, if he is re-elected and Republicans gain control of the Senate, is in line to become the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
“I will have a lot of control over it, in other words reducing our bloated tax code and making it fairer and simpler and easier to understand,” Hatch said.
The committee is working on entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare that “are eating us alive and are out of control,” he said.
“We need to clearly find a way to fund our entitlement programs without hurting the people who are dependent on them,” Hatch said.
The Social Security program will be a challenge, Hatch said, because it was not designed to work the way it is today.
“When it was implemented, people only lived a few years after they retired,” Hatch said. “Now they live 20 or more years.”
Liljenquist said he plans to work closely with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is the chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan has also proposed an alternative plan to President Obama’s budget.
Liljenquist said he wants to help Ryan remove welfare from federal government control and “give it back to the states.”
Hatch said Medicaid also is a challenge, because states are required to fund it, and it “is the largest line item on any state’s budget. It is about 22 percent, and it’s crowding out other programs as it increases.”
Liljenquist wants to focus on passing Medicaid waivers so states can implement cost-cutting legislation.
Utah legislators in 2011 passed a bill that reformed how Medicaid worked in the state, but it requires a waiver from the federal government. Liljenquist said Utah has received “zero help from Hatch” in getting that waiver.
Liljenquist also plans to work to “restore legislative authority to Congress.”
And he would like to review what agencies are necessary on a federal level.
There is no reason for the federal government to oversee education, he said.
Hatch is opposed to President Obama’s health care plan. He acknowledges that during the Clinton administration he sponsored a health care bill that had “an individual mandate clause in it that I didn’t pay attention to at the time.
“We were only interested then in defeating the Hillary-care bill,” Hatch said.
Hatch said he had read his bill, but missed the language mandating individuals get health insurance.
“We knew we weren’t going to pass it at the time, and I was the first one to raise the unconstitutionality of the individual mandate (with Obama’s health care law),” Hatch said.
Another issue for Liljenquist would be to revamp the federal retirement program.
Liljenquist changed Utah’s retirement program in 2011, which he said ended the practice of double-dipping “because it is no longer lucrative to do so.”
Before Liljenquist’s bill, a police officer, a firefighter, or an employee who received state retirement benefits could retire one day and then be back at work in the same job the next.
Liljenquist’s bill made it so a person could not come back for a year. Also if they do come back to work as a state employee, they cannot pay any more into their retirement fund, Liljenquist said.
It also eliminated pensions for legislators. Liljenquist is not in favor of Congressional members receiving a federal pension and wants to reform that part of the federal retirement program.
“I will not take a federal pension and I don’t think Congress should do so, either,” Liljenquist said. “Why should Congress get a better deal than the rest of the country?”
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Scott Howell in the November election.