US Rep. Richard Neal says Ways and Means Committee to prioritize health care protections, retirement savings
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, a Springfield Democrat and the newly minted House Ways and Means Committee chairman, said the powerful tax-writing panel will immediately work to enshrine health care protections for pre-existing conditions, shore up retirement savings and push for infrastructure investments when he takes over the gavel next month
Neal, who officially secured the high-profile position in a Thursday caucus vote, told The Republican that he plans to move forward in January on addressing protections for pre-existing health care conditions -- an issue which loomed large in the 2018 election cycle and resurfaced in wake of a recent federal court ruling on the Affordable Care Act.
The congressman added that Ways and Means could begin holding large hearings on an infrastructure package as early as February, noting that he and other leaders have already discussed a floor schedule for such legislation.
Beyond that, Neal said he plans to look at possible tax changes that could help stave off the looming retirement savings crisis, refine U.S. trade measures and consider changes to Republican-backed tax overhauls passed last December.
“It’s pretty ambitious, but we’re going to give it a go,” he said in an interview.
Although Democrats will control just the U.S. House of Representatives in the new Congress, Neal said he’s optimistic that the two chambers and the White House can come together and pass bipartisan solutions.
“I’m hopeful that some of the issue we’re going to put up right away are going to be bipartisan,” he said. “I don’t see why, for example, Republicans would object to the proposals I have on retirement savings. If anything, I think they’re going to be supportive of them.”
The congressman offered that lawmakers could address the number of Americans without proper retirement savings by approving tax credits that encourage employers to set up retirement plans. Congress should also make it easier for people to participate in retirement plans, but harder for them to pull down funds early, he argued.
Neal further noted that the Trump administration has expressed willingness to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure package -- an issue which has largely stalled in Congress as Democrats and Republicans have sparred over how to fund such investments.
“They’ve indicated they’re in. I’ve had conversations with the secretary of the Treasury, as well as the president on this,” he said.
The congressman, however, acknowledged that both parties will have to come together to pass any such legislation, stressing that “there isn’t any way that any party can do it in isolation.”
In addition to laying out his legislative priorities for the House Ways and Means Committee, Neal reflected on the significance of his new chairmanship position.
Noting the number of presidents, vice presidents and House speakers who have served on the panel in its nearly 230-year history, the congressman said being elected chairman marks the “pinnacle” of his political and personal ambition in Washington.
“There are few, if any, committee jurisdictions that hold the sway of the Ways and Means Committee -- we hold the responsibility for any and all tax measures, Medicare, Social Security, a part of Medicaid, pensions, welfare (and) management of the public debt,” he said. “That’s a pretty all-encompassing responsibility for a committee that is also one of the smallest in Congress with only 40 members.”
The Springfield Democrat will officially take over leadership of the committee -- which is the oldest panel in the U.S. Congress -- from current Chairman U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, in early January.