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Neal set to chair Congress’ tax-writing committee, may go after Trump’s tax returns

  • Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, speaks to reporters Wednesday, at U.S. District Court in Springfield about the previous night’s election results. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • U.S. REP. RICHARD NEAL, D-Springfield file photo



Staff Writer
Thursday, November 08, 2018

SPRINGFIELD — After Democrats seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday night, the Massachusetts delegation in Washington is expected to gain significant power within the party’s leadership.

At the top of that conversation is Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, who not only is poised to lead the powerful Ways and Means Committee but may be leading the charge to get President Trump to release his tax returns.

Speaking Wednesday at a press conference at the federal courthouse, Neal said his takeaway from the national election was that the most important issue was health care — an area where Neal’s committee wields considerable influence.

Neal has been the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the origination of all bills regarding taxation in the House.

“At the Ways and Means Committee, that will be the priority issue that we bring up — ensuring and defending the idea that people who are born with an ailment are not wrongfully treated because it’s a pre-existing condition,” Neal told the gathered reporters.

Health care was a topic to which Neal frequently returned. But another question hovering around the media landscape Wednesday is how a Democratic-controlled House will investigate Trump.

Neal has himself entered the national conversation on that score.

“America, allow me to introduce you to the Democrat who can now lead the charge to get President Trump’s tax returns,” was how CNN anchor Jake Tapper described Neal in a tweet Wednesday.

“Yeah, I think we will,” was how Neal responded to the question at the press conference.

“I think that there are some precedents for this, but I hope that the president would do this on his own,” Neal said, adding that the Ways and Means committee has the power to ask for the president’s tax returns. “Then I assume there would be a court case that would go on for a period of time.”

As for sweeping investigations, however, Neal said he thinks “proportionality is very important.”

Early in the press conference, Neal said he’s concerned about the multi-employer pension plans across the Midwest that are racing toward insolvency, threatening to collapse the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. He said lower prescription drug prices would be a priority. A renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, could soon be in front of the committee, as could trade agreements with the United Kingdom and the European Union, Neal said.

“I’ve been in intense conversations with the United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who shares many of my views on enforcement,” Neal said.

Bipartisanship was a central theme for Neal, who said he hopes to negotiate across the aisle on a major infrastructure bill and other common ground.

There is a portion of the Democratic base, however, who would like to see their party refuse to compromise with the Republican Party, which has fervently backed Trump and his agenda.

When asked the issues on which he would not compromise with Republicans, Neal said it will be in protecting the federal government’s “bedrock guarantee” social programs.

“I will be unyielding in my defense of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, understanding that half the revenue at our hospitals across Massachusetts comes at least from Medicare, and in places … another 15 to 20 percent of their revenue comes from Medicaid,” Neal said.

When asked how it feels to be in such a top national position decades after being a city councilor and mayor in the city, Neal mostly steered the conversation away from himself.

“For me, it’s been a steep climb,” he said, adding that it has been 147 years since someone from the Massachusetts delegation led the Ways and Means Committee.

But to the journalists gathered, he highlighted what he described as his preparedness over his career.

“I’ve paid attention to the most arcane matters,” Neal said. “And my staff will tell you that I read about them, I read about them and I read about them.”