Nicole Hager, 202-224-4515
ICYMI: Hatch Has Doggedly Altered How We Live from Cradle to Grave
By Warren Rojas
December 20, 2018 6:31AM ET
The prolific Utah lawmaker, who is leaving office 40 years after he arrived on Capitol Hill, historically has fought for what he believes in by studying policy, building bipartisan support, and patiently bending the legislative branch to his will.
His legislative legacy—staff members said he has had more than 800 bills signed into law—is predictably long and fascinatingly diverse.
While his name isn’t synonymous with every deal that has crossed the president’s desk since the Carter administration, Hatch’s fingerprints are on everything from the revolutionary Children’s Health Insurance Program, a joint effort with late Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, to the current slate of Supreme Court justices. He most recently co-chaired the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans, a last-ditch effort to salvage underfunded corporate pensions before the federal support system goes broke in 2025.
The detail-oriented pol has also shaped the tax code to his liking, carving out benefits for stay-at-home moms, military reservists, business owners, and others he decided could use a helping hand.
Should his parting effort, the collaborative Retirement Enhancement and Savings (RESA) Act, fail to pass before Congress adjourns, Hatch is confident that incoming Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will get it done in the next session.
“That’s going to be one thing they’re going to have to do,” Hatch told Bloomberg Law. He hailed the retirement savings bundle he co-authored with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) as a career coda that “will make tremendous changes to the American retirement system.”
‘Not Easy to Work On or Explain’
Whether jumping into brawls over judicial nominations or casually downplaying Trump’s mounting campaign violations, Hatch can’t escape controversy these days.
He did things much differently early on.
During the Reagan era, Hatch quietly plotted his ultimate goal: “improve the retirement system so it has the widest range of people possible,” he said.
Hatch drafted or cosponsored proposals: bolstering struggling corporate pension plans; weaving insurance company annuity contracts into retirement programs; extending disability benefits to retired railroad workers; facilitating employee stock option plans; and preserving employer-sponsored benefits for women on maternity leave.
His interests—and influence—grew as he chaired three powerful panels: the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee; the benefits-minded Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and ideologically charged Judiciary Committee.
Whittling away at discriminatory practices became a passion. He helped advance the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which includes sweeping benefits such as requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities. Earlier this decade Hatch lent his support to the bipartisan ABLE Act, which opened up tax-free savings accounts to those dealing with disabilities.
Hatch is well aware his legislative resume is all over the place. But he insists that’s by design.
“There’s a plethora of bills and approaches here that I have participated in,” he told Bloomberg Law, noting that he has long focused on issues that are “not easy to work on or explain.”
Preston Rutledge, a former Finance Committee aide who now leads the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, said Hatch doesn’t pretend to be an expert on everything. “He would give you the freedom to figure out the answers and bring the options back,” Rutledge said of Hatch’s management style.
Heeding other voices has long been a top priority, several Finance aides confirmed. One outreach effort that paid off was the discussions Hatch fostered when he assumed control of the panel in 2013. That collective brainstorming, which staff said covered everything from trimming pension costs to making retirement benefits more portable, helped shape the Secure Annuities for Employee Retirement (SAFE) Act of 2013.
A few years later, Hatch and Wyden created a handful of working groups to talk tax reform. Dozens of hearings were held. Committee members weighed in on what was most important to them. Reports were published.
The original RESA bill sprung from those deliberations.
Reaching across the aisle. Getting down into the weeds. Setting aside ego. These are the attributes that a former Finance aide said have enabled Hatch to rack up legislative wins throughout the years.
“He’s always been a, ‘Let’s see what we can get done’ person,” the former staffer said of Hatch’s style. “He’ll take wins where he can, even if it’s not a total victory.”
Hatch openly acknowledges that making incremental changes to so many facets of American life was very much a team effort.
“Most of the pieces of legislation I am most proud of had dozens of cosponsors, were widely seen as bipartisan, and have remained on the books largely because I did not get everything I wanted,” he said during his farewell speech.
Lynn Dudley, vice president of global retirement policy at the American Benefits Council, described Hatch as an “effective negotiator” and “consensus builder” who was not afraid to dig into complex tax issues. She pointed to passage of the Pension Protection Act and the introduction of RESA as noteworthy accomplishments. “He is a committed leader,” Dudley said in an email.
Jim Martin, president of the 60 Plus Association, suggested that Hatch doesn’t get nearly enough credit.
“Few members of Congress have contributed to the creation and preservation of long-term retirement savings plans like Orrin Hatch. As a supporter of personal retirement accounts and Roth IRAs, and through his efforts to preserve Social Security, his legacy remains to this day and will continue for many years to come,” Martin said in an email.
Not everyone is sad Hatch is leaving.
Staff at the union-led American Federation for Government Employees accused Hatch of routinely choosing corporations over workers in policy fights.
“He’s certainly never stood up for federal employees’ retirement benefits,” AFGE policy director Jacqueline Simon said.
His peers, however, say Hatch will be sorely missed.
“His legislation gave businesses, particularly small businesses, the tools needed to offer retirement plans to workers at the lowest possible cost,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) proclaimed on the Senate floor, adding, “It is this work that those of us who remain in Congress must now pick up and continue.”
“There is always more to be done,” he counseled
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