Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal's 2019 priorities: Massive infrastructure spending, protecting pre-existing health conditions
Infrastructure spending and protecting health insurance for pre-existing health care conditions are among the top priorities for Rep. Richard Neal, who will take over the powerful Ways and Means Committee when Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives.
Speaking with Boston business leaders Tuesday, Neal said he recently spoke with Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump's treasury secretary.
"They're on board with infrastructure," Neal said.
"Now whether or not that changes given the vagaries of opinion at the White House in the next few minutes," infrastructure spending is something Trump has previously supported, up to $1.5 trillion, according to Neal, a Springfield Democrat.
Addressing the New England Council at the Boston Harbor Hotel, Neal pointed to the multibillion dollar Big Dig project and how much the megaproject transformed Boston's waterfront as an example of federal spending.
"People object to federal spending in general, they tend not to object to it when specific," he said.
Neal continued: "The wise investment of public purse is really important. And I think on the infrastructure side...we've really fallen behind."
Neal recalled his frequent travels between Washington, D.C. and Connecticut's Bradley International Airport, the second largest in New England.
"When they say, 'Well, your assignment is Gate 35X,' I think purgatory," Neal quipped.
"Our roads, bridges, highways, our airports, water and sewer, broadband investments," he added. "Those are the things we all ought to be able to agree on as members of the American family."
Mnuchin has asked him how he intends to pay for it, and Neal said he responded by saying he is aiming for a bipartisan press conference to announce the infrastructure bill, an effort to head off dueling party-line announcements that would have Democrats announcing the spending and Republicans saying they would block it.
"The optics will be designed early on, and we'll do this shoulder to shoulder, without even air between us," Neal said. "But we have to do it."
Other "quick wins" Neal is looking to put on the political board include "enshrining" health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. That will be one of the first things the Ways and Means Committee will do, "if not the first," Neal said.
He also pledged to protect Medicare, the federal health insurance program largely for people ages 65 and over.
Neal brought up Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, big employers 50 miles apart in the western and central parts of the state. Half of their revenue comes from Medicare, he said.