Rep. Neal Vows to Protect Pre-existing Condition Coverage
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- As he prepares to take the gavel of a powerful tax writing committee in the new Democrat-controlled House, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal urged his fellow Democrats on Monday to “focus on governing” rather than an intraparty leadership squabble that has dominated the post-midterm discussion.
House Democrats will caucus in Washington on Wednesday to select a leadership team that will help guide the agenda in Congress for the next two years. Some members, including Rep. Seth Moulton of Salem, have been urging the party to turn the page from California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is on the precipice of a second stint as speaker, but the rebellion has seemed to sputter in recent days.
Neal, the dean of the Massachusetts and New England delegations, is a supporter of Pelosi’s, and said she’s the “only one” with the skills to help protect the gains made by “center-left Democrats” who defeated Republican incumbents in the mid-terms or won seats vacated by retiring GOP members.
“She’s going to overwhelmingly win the caucus, but there will be a chance there to find out how many real hard no’s there are, and then you’ll see us continue to go to work on this,” Neal said. “I think the emphasis right now ought to be on governing and to get caught up in this dust-up right now sets us back by days and I don’t want it to be by weeks.”
Neal doesn’t want to get bogged down in a Democratic power struggle because for the first time in his 30-year career on Capitol Hill he is poised to become a chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
“I want to put some quick wins on the board,” Neal told Boston business leaders in remarks to the New England Council at the Boston Harbor Hotel. The Springfield Democrat was the second member of the state delegation to address the council in as many days after U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy spoke Monday about the need for “moral capitalism” and ways for Democrats to win back voters who backed President Donald Trump.
Neal said “one of the first things we’re going to do, if not the first” on the Ways and Means Committee is vote to protect health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, a measure contained in the Affordable Care Act but still the subject of perpetual debate in Washington.
In addition to “enshrining” health care protections for pre-existing conditions, Neal said he is also interested in putting together a bipartisan infrastructure bill, encouraging retirement savings and preserving hospital Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.
Neal said that he recently spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about an infrastructure bill and believes the Trump administration has an interest. “They’re on board with infrastructure,” Neal said, notwithstanding what he called the “vagaries of opinion at the White House ... ”
Mnuchin, according to Neal, asked the Democrat how he planned to pay for an infrastructure bill that Trump once supported at more than $1 trillion.
“I said I can assure you of this, when we reach that decision we’ll all be standing together to announce it ...,” Neal said. “The optics will be designed early on and then we’ll do the shoulder to shoulder without any air between us.”
Neal also promised to hold hearings on the Trump tax reform law, and to revisit parts of that Republican law that placed a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions and taxed university endowments.
“I thought part of the endowment tax was punitive,” he said.
Neal spent a good amount of time discussing how his patience paid off as he waited to build up seniority on the Ways and Means Committee and rise to the position he’s in today. The same, Neal said, holds true for Rep. Jim McGovern, who will become Rules Committee chairman in the next Congress.
Asked about Rep. Katherine Clark’s future in House leadership, Neal offered encouragement for the Melrose Democrat, before pivoting to the opening Rep. Michael Capuano will leave on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee when he leaves in January. The Somerville incumbent lost to Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley of Boston in a primary.
“That infrastructure assignment and the Capuano seat is going to be very important to the state, particularly if you do a big infrastructure bill,” Neal said.
From his perch on Ways and Means, Neal in the next Congress will have jurisdiction over everything from taxes to trade and tariffs, Social Security, the tax-side of the Medicare and Medicaid programs and managing public debt.
Neal said protecting the retirement security of Americans has always been of interest to him, and he said, “We need to build around Social Security and use the tax code to encourage more savings.”
On trade and tariffs, Neal said he’s curious to see if Republicans will try to ratify a rewritten North American Free Trade Agreement during the lame-duck session, or wait until next year, and he advocated seeking a bilateral trade deal with the United Kingdom and broader agreement with the European Union.
He also expressed concern about President Trump’s willingness to escalate a trade war with China.
“Sometimes the threat of tariffs is better than the tariffs themselves,” Neal said.