US Rep. Richard Neal takes the helm as House Ways and Means Committee chairman
WASHINGTON — As the 116th Congress convened for the first time Thursday, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal officially took over as the Ways and Means Committee’s chairman -- a powerful position which puts the Springfield Democrat at the forefront of debate on tax, trade and other high-profile issues on Capitol Hill.
Neal, who was elected Ways and Means chairman last month, told The Republican that he intends to use his position to enshrine protections for pre-existing health care conditions into federal law, shine a light on GOP-backed tax overhaul changes, address retirement savings shortfalls and push for an infrastructure investment package.
Specifically, the Springfield Democrat said he’d like to hold hearings on the wide-ranging tax overhaul law Republicans passed in late 2017 so that lawmakers can address issues and hear from experts who were unable to testify before the measure moved through Congress.
Neal said he also intends to take immediate action to protect Americans with pre-existing health care conditions — an issue which has garnered attention in wake of a recent court decision.
The congressman further 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, among other things.
Beyond policy issues, Neal reiterated that he intends to use his status as Ways and Means chairman to request the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
The Democrat argued that while he’d prefer for Trump to follow the precedent set by previous presidents by voluntarily releasing his tax information, he, as chairman has the ability to request the forms.
“We’re now in the majority, so the staff is examining right now how to do that,” he said in an interview, noting that the move is expected to draw legal pushback. “The approach will be judicious. ... We are carefully trying to figure out how this would be accomplished within the framework of existing law. But, again, there can’t even be air between the request and the determination."
Despite his promotion to House Ways and Means chairman, the congressman stressed that he remains committed to serving his constituents and thanked them for sending him back to Congress.
“I’m eternally grateful," he said. “My own steep climb has certainly been helped along by their good will and faith."
Neal, who called the Ways and Means chairmanship “one of the most important” on Capitol Hill, noted that the panel hasn’t been led by someone from Massachusetts in more than a century.
House Democrats selected Neal as the new House Ways and Means Committee chairman as they met behind closed doors in December.
The congressman, who as served on the tax-writing panel for years, was named its ranking member, or top Democrat, in December 2016.