Editorial: Western Mass gets clout as McGovern, Neal assume powerful roles in Congress


Published: 1/11/2019 8:42:35 AM

U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern was in a familiar setting Wednesday on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, aiming his powerful words squarely at the president and urging his colleagues to adopt bills to end a partial government shutdown.

In calling the shutdown, now entering its third week, an “embarrassing spectacle,” McGovern said, “I hope this president comes to his senses.”

McGovern has used his platform to criticize Trump before, but he currently stands behind a much more powerful pulpit as the 116th Congress gets under way. That’s because the Worcester Democrat, who represents a large swath of western and central Massachusetts, has taken over chairmanship of the House Rules Committee that determines the rules for how bills come to the floor for votes.

McGovern isn’t the only Democrat from western Massachusetts to be elevated to prominent status this month after the party seized control of the House in November’s midterm elections.

Fellow longtime Democrat, Springfield’s Richard Neal, is now chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, the chief tax-writing committee for the House. Neal represents 25 communities in Hampshire and Franklin counties, all of Hampden and Berkshire counties, and several towns in Worcester County.

Neal, like McGovern, has wasted no time in wielding his newfound power. Less than a week after assuming the new role, the congressman has pressed to see an IRS contingency plan on how tax return filings and refunds will be processed during the shutdown. He followed that up Wednesday by unveiling legislation to address a retirement savings “crisis” by creating a new Pension Rehabilitation Administration.

These are just a few examples of how McGovern and Neal are poised to help shape the direction of the country for at least the next two years. It has been 147 years since someone from the Massachusetts delegation has led Ways and Means, and two decades since the late congressmen Joe Moakley ran the Rules Committee. The fact that McGovern and Neal hail from smallish western Mass and not the Boston area is a feather in the cap for this region.

Neal, the former Springfield mayor who has represented the 1st Congressional District for 30 years, has spelled out an aggressive agenda in several interviews over the past few weeks. Some of his pledges include finding solutions to rebuild infrastructure nationwide, opposing efforts to privatize Social Security and cut Medicare, and proposing new ways for Americans to save for retirement and access affordable health care.

We hope Neal succeeds on all fronts and forges ahead in other areas, such as pressing President Trump into releasing his tax returns.

And while we appreciate Neal’s statements last month about bipartisanship with Republicans, we urge him to hold fast to promises to protect federal government’s social programs and to fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act.

McGovern, who has represented the 2nd Congressional District for 22 years, equates his new position to that of a “traffic cop” — one in which he is positioned to influence almost any bill that makes it to the House floor for debate. That’s because all major legislation goes through the Rules Committee first. That’s a heady appointment for the 12-term Democrat.

We hope McGovern is able to deliver not only for the country but on his promise to be the “protector for western Massachusetts.” This means advancing bills to address infrastructure, environment, workers’ protections and others.

It’s a new year, and with the shutdown, it’s off to a shaky start. But seeing two of the most powerful positions in the House filled by Democrats from this part of Massachusetts is a good thing for the region — and for the country.

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