Neal offers ‘inside baseball’ in talk on Washington

  • U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, right, meets with constituents after a public event at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • Congressman Richard Neal PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2019 12:16:06 AM

AMHERST — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal continues to make headlines as activists pressure him on two issues: obtaining President Donald Trump’s tax returns and supporting the environmental resolution known as the Green New Deal.

But speaking Tuesday in the Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts, Neal spent little time on those issues, sticking instead with what he said he knows best — “inside baseball.”

“The only good accomplishments of public life are done through painstaking moments,” he told the crowd gathered to hear him give the “view from Washington, D.C.”

Much of Neal’s talk consisted of those moments, telling the audience the details of his work on Capitol Hill. He explained the purview of the Committee on Ways and Means, which he now chairs, and how he has been involved in everything from tax policy to trade talks with China. He detailed what he’s doing to push for $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment. He voiced his concerns over the multi-employer pension plans facing insolvency in the Midwest. And he restated his continued resolve to protect Social Security.

“We all pull the wagon in our youth, because we might have to sit in the wagon in our later years,” he said of the program, which was created as part of the New Deal.

At a time when increasing numbers in the Democratic Party are advocating for universal, single-payer health care coverage, Neal advocated for improving the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m in favor of universal access,” he said.

As has been the case whenever he is asked about getting his hands on Trump’s tax returns — a power he has as chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means — Neal declined to provide any timeline.

“I intend to do it, I’ve made that clear,” he said to applause. But he expects there to be a long legal battle over the attempt, so he said he is being “methodical.” “It has to be done correctly.”

Neal has faced pressure from liberal groups on Trump’s tax returns. The billionaire activist Tom Steyer recently came to Neal’s district as part of his Need to Impeach campaign, and the groups Stand Up America and Tax March held a national “day of action” on Tuesday, urging the constituents of Ways and Means members to pressure Neal to “immediately” request the tax returns.

Neal faced more immediate pressure on Tuesday from a group of activists asking him to endorse the Green New Deal, which is a resolution sponsored in the Senate by Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey. Neal is the only member of the state’s entire federal delegation who hasn’t backed the resolution.

“I’m, by and large, fine with it,” he sai d when asked about the Green New Deal. But as chairman of Ways and Means, he added, “I have to figure out how to pay for it.”

The protesters quietly held signs at the back of the event Tuesday, then waited in line to speak with Neal as he greeted a long line of those who came to hear him. Connie Dawson, of Easthampton, was one of the activists, and explained to Neal that the Green New Deal is a resolution, not a bill.

“It’s full of aspirational goals,” she said. “Why can’t you publicly support it for what it is?”

Despite telling Dawson that he supports it, Neal immediately raised objections.

“It is aspirational, and you’re going to say to me, ‘We’re getting rid of planes in 10 years,’” he said. “What are we going to do about cows?”

The text of the Green New Deal resolution makes no mention of airplanes or cows. It calls for overhauling the country’s transportation systems through investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing, public transit and high-speed rail. It also calls for working with farmers and ranchers to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture “as much as is technologically feasible.”

Neal will be holding a roundtable address on retirement security on Thursday at the Statehouse in Boston. Participants will include the heads of investment firms, academics, the AARP, business leaders, retirement advisers and a member of a union pension plan, among others.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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