Much, of course, depends on who wins the White House and control of Congress.
Here is where the debate would start: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney agrees with Hatch that there should be a one-year extension on all of the Bush-era tax cuts, then comprehensive tax reform. President Barack Obama wants to let those tax cuts expire for Americans making more than $250,000 a year, and then do reform.
Hatch would have great say in where the discussion ends — with a new tax code, a collapse of talks or something in-between. He has willing negotiating partners in both parties, beginning with his Democratic counterpart atop the Finance Committee hierarchy, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, and including some of the most agile dealmakers in Congress.
"Orrin is good, one of the best," says Waxman.
No one suggests that Hatch, for all his red meat bluster lately, comes back to the Senate next year any less of a dealmaker. Right now, longtime colleagues say, Hatch is doing what Hatch does best: adapt to the "rhythms of change."
"Politics is not a static business. The ability of someone who's good at this, and unfortunately we don't give enough credit for it, is the ability to understand that the public's mood is not static either," Dodd, now president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in an interview. "Orrin's got a very good ear. And he used it."
The South Carolina Republican who calls himself "Sen. Tea Party" attributes Hatch's longevity to engaging, rather than dismissing, critics from the right.
"He didn't go home and try to explain to people why they were wrong," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a chief patron of tea party candidates. "He went home and listened."
By the time the tea party had defeated Bennett in a state convention two years ago, Hatch was already on the move. He faced voters deeply suspicious about Washington insiders. For those who said that 36 years in office was enough, he said that he wouldn't be running again if it weren't for the chance he'll become chairman of the Finance Committee. For those who said he wasn't conservative enough, he gravitated to the right.
Hatch also spent about $10 million on a campaign unlike any Utah had seen. He won endorsement from Romney, another of Utah's favorite sons. In the state's June primary running against former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, Hatch won two-thirds of the vote.
Three months from the general election, Hatch is still riling up the base. He'll casually toss off a comment about how he doesn't understand why Obama's experience as a community organizer qualifies him to lead the country. He framed Obama's plans to tax the wealthiest Americans as an attack on small businesses.
For many, the question is whether Hatch hews to conservatism in what are sure to be tough negotiations on taxes and changing entitlement benefit programs.
DeMint thinks a brief moment and concludes, "I trust him."
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