Western, Central Mass. Congressmen Poised For Leadership As Dems Take House

Nov 8, 2018

A pair of members of Congress from Massachusetts are set up well for the next couple years.

Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield is currently the top Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. With Democrats winning a majority in the House, Neal is in line to chair that committee.

"When I walk in the Ways and Means Committee, as I have all of these years, I always remind myself James Madison served on this committee, the author of our Constitution," Neal said at a news conference Wednesday in Springfield. "Eight American presidents have served on the Ways and Means Committee. And I think that it demonstrates the historic responsibility that the committee has."

Among Neal's priorities: getting his hands on President Donald Trump's tax returns.

Unlike others who've run for president, Trump never released his returns publicly. Neal said he may consult legal counsel or the Joint Committee on Taxation on how to formulate the request.

"This has to be done so that legally it meets the law, and I think that there are some precedents for this," Neal said. "But I hope that  the president would do this on his own."

Still, Neal said he anticipates a legal battle.

Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern.
Credit Robin Lubbock / WBUR

Also in line for a committee chairmanship is Representative Jim McGovern. The Worcester Democrat is currently the ranking member on the House Rules Committee, and expects to chair the panel come January.

We spoke with McGovern and asked what issues top his list for the coming term. Below is a transcript of that conversation.

Congressman Jim McGovern: Well, there are a number of things that we want to focus on. One is we need to get an infrastructure bill passed to rebuild our country and put people back to work. We want to try to find a way to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

There some reform ideas, to kind of clean up Congress, and to make it run in a way that is more professional and more accommodating to all members -- not just Democrats, but Republicans.

It looks like I'm going to be the new chairman of the Rules Committee, and that we're going to write the rules package. And my hope is we're going to put together a rules package that shows that we're going to run the place very differently.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: You've worked successfully across party lines before. You've worked to create the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program to feed hungry children overseas. But here in the U.S., reductions in aid to hungry kids have been made. How can a Democratic-controlled House restore cuts made to food stamps when there's still a GOP Senate and president?

Well, let me give you one example. Right now, we're trying to negotiate a farm bill in a conference committee. The Republican-controlled Senate actually put a farm bill together that doesn't gut SNAP, that doesn't reduce our emergency food programs for people who are struggling.

The House version, unfortunately, devastates SNAP. I mean, it actually will throw millions of people -- needy people -- off the benefit, and throw hundreds of thousands of kids off of free breakfast and lunch in school.

I think the Senate -- even under Republican control, as it is now -- is more reasonable on some of these issues. The House is more extreme.

In the case of the farm bill, I think [a Democratic-controlled] House would probably agree to something very similar to what the Senate has done, and thereby do no harm to some of these food programs. So having the majority in the House, I think, eliminates some of the extremism that we've seen in some of the legislation that has moved to the president's desk.

Dairy farmers in your district -- also across the commonwealth and across the country -- are struggling with milk prices. What's your plan to help farmers?

One is recognizing that farmers are different in different parts of the country. Here in New England, farms are smaller and have unique needs. So we have to understand that we need to provide assistance for some of our local farms in New England to be able to diversify.

Most of our farms are in transition. So providing assistance to help them maybe diversify what they grow or what they produce, helping them be able to market what they produce better, providing better subsidies in the case of our of our dairy farmers here, who are disadvantaged groups of dairy farmers in other parts of the country.

But the farm bill needs to be more relevant to New England farmers. We need to understand the uniqueness of New England farmers, and that is what I've tried to do -- because I'm still on the Agriculture Committee, as well. If we move forward with the farm bill, that's one of the ways we can be helpful.

As the presumptive incoming chair of the House Rules Committee, how will that leadership position help your constituents?

Everything that Congress deals with goes to the Rules Committee. So it could be a tax bill, it could be an infrastructure bill, it could be an education bill -- it all has to come to the Rules Committee.

We'll be able to have our fingerprints on all the major pieces of legislation that go before the House. We can make and order amendments that are helpful to Massachusetts, and to some of the concerns that people in this state have.

And you have to deal with all the other committees' chairs and ranking members as we move our agenda forward. So being the chairman the Rules Committee put you in a very unique position to be able to be involved in everything.

Adam Frenier contributed to this report.

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