McGovern, Neal poised to lead on key committees in 116th Congress

  • McGovern FILE PHOTO/Carol Lollis


  • The statue of George Washington is seen beneath the Rotunda in the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. The House passed an extensive criminal justice bill Thursday that will reduce some of the harshest sentences for federal drug offenders and boost prison rehabilitation programs. The bill passed 358-36 and now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

Staff Writer
Published: 12/20/2018 11:16:12 PM

When the 116th U.S. Congress begins meeting Jan. 3, the congressmen who represent communities across western Massachusetts in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts will both have committee leadership roles.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, is the chairman-designate of the House Committee on Ways & Means, which is the chief tax-writing committee for the House, while James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, will become chairman of the House Rules Committee, which determines the rules for how bills come to the floor for votes.

Their nominations, by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, were approved Thursday by the House Democratic Caucus.

In a statement, Neal said he is grateful to his colleagues for trusting him with the leadership responsibility. He said he sees his role as helping Democrats’ efforts to increase opportunities for all American people and restoring the integrity of the federal government.

“We must use our majority on the Ways & Means Committee to advance policies that put American families first,” Neal said. “I will continue my fight for tax policies that are fair to working families and small businesses.”

Neal, who represents 13 communities in Hampshire County — Easthampton, South Hadley, Granby, Williamsburg, Southampton, Westhampton, Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Plainfield, Worthington and Middlefield — pledged to find innovative solutions to rebuild infrastructure across the nation, to oppose efforts to privatize Social Security and cut Medicare, and to propose new ways for Americans to save for retirement and access affordable health care.

“I look forward to instituting a more accommodating process that helps restore the integrity of this institution as the Democratic majority advances an agenda that works for all Americans,” said McGovern, in a statement Thursday.

He noted that since the American people demanded a new direction and gave control of the U.S. House back to Democrats, the House Rules Committee will once again become a place where big ideas are debated rather than “being where democracy goes to die.”

McGovern thanked Pelosi for her leadership and his colleagues for giving him the opportunity to lead the committee, observing that the 115th Congress under Republican control was the most closed in history and led to more brinksmanship and legislative breakdown.

He also cited the Massachusetts tradition of leading the House Rules Committee, including late Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. and his friend and mentor, the late U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley.

“They taught me that you don’t have to agree on everything to agree on something, and that good people can disagree and still work together to get things done,” McGovern said. “Their example will guide me as I lead the Rules Committee at such an important time for our state and nation.”

McGovern, elected to the House of Representatives in 1996 and appointed to the House Rules Committee in 2001, has a district that includes Northampton, Amherst, Belchertown, Hadley, Hatfield, Pelham, and Ware in Hampshire County, with Deerfield, Leverett, Shutesbury, Sunderland and Whately among the Franklin County towns.

Matt Barron, a local political consultant, said both are “very prestigious appointments,” though he notes that unlike retired Congressman John Olver, who was chairman of the Appropriations Committee, there will be less impact felt locally.

Barron said even though McGovern will be a superstar for the Democrats, his influence on the region is felt more in his role on the Agricultural Committee, where he can respond to concerns from local farmers.

As for Neal, Barron said infrastructure, such as rural broadband and passenger rail, are areas where Neal may be able to guide to Ways & Means Committee.

“Infrastructure is a big deal,” Barron said. “He’s got a chance to really deliver.”

But Barron said he is skeptical this will happen and worries that on tax policy, trade and health care, Neal’s views may not align with many of the new progressive members of the House.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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