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Congressman Richard Neal

Representing the 1st District of Massachusetts

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Editorial: Could Neal inspire change in Congress?

March 13, 2017
In The News

Stories emanating from the Washington press corps recently suggest that Congressman Richard E. Neal may just be centrist enough to have some influence on the Republican budget and tax agenda.

Neal, who represents part of Franklin County and much of western Mass., is the new top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. It’s been reported that he aims to counter conservative priorities of President Donald Trump, while seeking some possible middle ground with Republicans on some other issues.

Neal ascended to his party’s ranking seat on the powerful budget-writing committee after 28 years in the House of Representatives.

He’s considered a Democrat with whom business interests can work and who wants to attract working-class voters who abandoned the party last November.

He has said he’s going to bring a different approach to Ways and Means than his predecessor, the progressive Sander M. Levin of Michigan.

“I was the change,” said Neal, who emphasizes “pro-growth and aspiration” as important themes for the Democrats.

While Neal is fighting GOP efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act health care law, he said he wants to exchange ideas and cut deals on more modest measures.

“I hope that we can stay in the game as long as possible on tax reform,” Neal told the Tribune News Service.

He has called for a package of middle-class tax cuts as a Democratic alternative to a GOP tax overhaul. “Rather than cutting taxes for people at the top, that tax cut ought to be expanded considerably for people in the middle,” Neal said.

He has also signaled support for a number of incentives for businesses and for economic development, things like enterprise zones, tax-exempt municipal bonds and continuing historic preservation tax credits.

Neal has said he will hold regular one-on-one meetings with the Texas Republican who chairs Ways and Means, Kevin Brady, to discuss issues and shared interests.

Brady reportedly said the two were “going to look for common ground.”

“He understands the innovation industry, and he knows America is no longer competitive around the world in the tax area,” Brady said.

It’s hard to say whether a moderate approach like Neal’s will actually produce results, or whether Democrats in the House will be relegated to the children’s table as the majority party dismantles years of public spirited policy.

Neal has been known to buck his more liberal Democratic brethren, which might annoy some of the more left-leaning constituents, especially in Franklin and Hampshire counties, but we would like to think a middle-of-the-road approach might moderate the more right-leaning inclinations of the GOP members of Ways and Means. Seeing Democrats and Republicans working together on at least some things would be a welcome sight and a laudable goal, even if all the pundits keep telling us that compromisers are all but extinct, and that the empowered GOP majority is feeling no need to meet in the middle.