Hatch On Social Security: Ideas, But No Plan

By Justin Torres | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

[Editor's Note: This is the latest in a series of stories on the 2000 presidential candidates and their plans to reform Social Security. Click here for other installments.]

- Utah Senator Orrin Hatch - near the bottom of the pack in most presidential preference polls - "is strongly in favor" of privatizing Social Security for younger workers while maintaining benefits for near-retirees or people presently drawing benefits, but hasn't decided yet on how to pay for that.

"These ideas are all in the nature of outlines; we haven't released anything formal in terms of a plan," Hatch spokesperson Jeff Flint told CNSNews.com.

This is largely in keeping with Hatch's reputation in the Senate, where he is better known as a man with a firm grasp on the details, rather than a "vision" man. Throughout his 23 years in the Congress, he has sponsored numerous small-caliber but nonetheless highly effective bills that deal with individual problems, foregoing grand schemes that create or modify new programs.

"Hatch has always been a consensus guy; he'll go for a piece of the pie rather than trying to fix everything at once," one Capitol Hill staffer who has worked with Hatch on the Senate Judiciary Committee told CNSNews.com.

That assessment of Hatch's approach to legislation is borne out by his record on Social Security, where he has sponsored several bills fine-tuning the mammoth entitlement program without ever being identified as a Social Security reformer.

Still, Hatch has been able to achieve some significant victories on Social Security, chief among them a bill - long on the wishlist of seniors' groups - raising to $30,000 the amount of money that retirees can earn before they must forego Social Security benefits. President Clinton signed the bill in March, 1996.

Hatch has also sponsored three bills aimed at reducing the 1993 Social Security tax increase, which raised the level of taxable benefits from 50 percent to 85 percent. The bill has yet to pass.

Hatch has shown interest in reducing the growth of Social Security, such as his fight against exempting the program from the proposed balanced budget amendment in 1995, "Look, let's be honest about it," Hatch told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, "Social Security's going to compete very well for the available dollars."

Democrats had claimed Congress would be tempted to use Social Security funds to balance the budget unless the program were taken off the books. Republicans had claimed that removing Social Security would negate the usefulness of any amendment. The Balanced Budget Amendment failed in Congress.