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Congressional Corner With Richard Neal

Congressman Richard Neal
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What will the $2.2 trillion CARES Act mean for Americans?

In today’s Congressional Corner, Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

This conversation was recorded April 9.

We are thrilled and delighted to be in the Congressional Corner with my Congressman, the first district of Massachusetts, Richie Neal. Ricchie, just so everybody doesn't think I'm being disrespectful, I've been calling you Richie for years. And I think you encouraged me to do it early in the game. But you know, the big time newspapers like the New York Times, they always say, “Richard Neal”, which is it?

Richie works fine.

That's great. That's great a man of the people. Richie, let me let me start by asking you the news. There's a $2.2 trillion economic revival bill. You guys had a very different view than the people in the Republican dominated Senate, and my informants for whatever it's worth, and you can tell me I'm wrong, tell me you had the major role in writing that Democratic part of the bill. Is that right?

I did, and I encouraged Speaker Pelosi to stand firm. I think the bill that was produced in the Senate was very narrow. And I think that the legislation that we came back with in terms of support for our hospitals, in terms of expanding unemployment insurance, the retention tax credit, and just as importantly, setting up the small business loan initiative, I think all of those were improvements, largely based upon the fact that just about 48 hours we insisted, that that'd be part of the negotiation. And I think that it's a much more encompassing piece of legislation. And in fact, I think that most Republican economists, as matter of fact, I know the ones that I've talked to, as well as the Democratic economists, they agree with the position that we took.

Was there anything that the president wanted that you found really offensive?

Well, I think that the putting a fence around the $500 billion that they requested for discretion. I mean, that's almost one fourth of the stimulus package, and I should do a better job of describing it as really about relief and stabilization. I think that as we move to recovery, that'll be more about stimulus but I think fencing off that legislation by making sure that there will be overseers to witness the manner in which that money is rolled out, I think that was really very important. So I think the President objected to congressional oversight, as he frequently does, but I think in this instance, Secretary Mnuchin, who we've developed a working relationship with on these issues. I think that that he came to the conclusion that to get the money it was worth having congressional oversight.

Yes. And yet we are treated these days to the firing of inspector generals including somebody who would be looking over the way this money was being spent. And when you have Jared Kushner, who is apparently the go to guy now, from the president side, that's pretty distressing, isn’t it?

It is distressing and I think that there's been a fundamental rejection from the Oval Office. I'm not suggesting for a moment that it applies to the cabinet secretaries and others, but I think in the Oval Office, there's been a fundamental rejection of congressional oversight. I think that Article 1 of the Constitution mentions Congress as the first branch of government for that precise reason. I mean, our constitutional system in some measure was a reflection of the resistance that the early colonists had to the idea of not having to do what the king told them without some sort of oversight. I think that that's been a strain that is correctly run through our system of governance. And if you talk about a representative democracy, it means just that, that there has to be some opportunity to review the expenditures of president and the executive.

So having his way with us is that the president, I mean, this is a guy who rejects all norms, who ignores the Constitution, and who now fires the inspector general. You know, it makes my hair stand on edge. How about you?

Well, it does, and there's an opportunity review, and it's called the first Tuesday after the first Monday, November, when there's going to be an election. I mean, I think that that ought to be the position that that we hold sacrosanct. And I believe very, very strongly that the people are going to have a chance to make a determination on that day. And I hope now that the presidential nomination on the Democratic side has been settled that there'll be an opportunity once the Coronavirus issue is successfully arrested, that we'll be able to compare and contrast the respective positions. And it strikes me that when you look at these issues going forward, that this is going to be based in some measure about accountability.

Well, that's an interesting point. I've been hearing lately on the radio station in other places people talking about, well, this one will run in 2024. Wait a second. We don't have this election yet. Are some Democrats giving up in your opinion?

Oh, no, just the opposite. I think that we had a pretty vigorous conversation, as a family would. And I think that we came to the conclusion this week when Senator Sanders decided to relinquish his ,or suspend I think there's the technical term that he used, I think now, everybody agrees that former Vice President Biden is going to be the nominee. And there'll be a chance again, as I noted, to compare and contrast respective views. I think that when you look at the advice that Senator, Vice President Biden is going to get along the way, that it'll be very sound.

Can you can you win? I mean, you know, the president calls him Sleepy Joe. I get emails saying he's not up to it; is he?

I think he is. I also think that there are a lot of good people in the Obama administration that are going to be surrounding him, and a lot of good people from the Clinton administration that will be surrounding him. You have people that frequently are careerists; they go off and they establish new credentials, and then they're frequently recruited back to the executive office. And I think that's always true of secretaries of state and secretaries of the treasury and others. So I'm very confident that the people that Vice President Biden will introduce in due time as to who's his advisory group, I think that that will establish that credibility that will be there?

Do you talk to him? Have you talked to him?

I have not talked to him for a while. No, I have not in fairness, I’ve been pretty busy with the responsibilities I have. And I thought that the presidential cycle would sort itself, and it did.

Right now, how do you get the Bernie people to come back into the fold? There are some who write me say, “I'll never vote for the traditional Democrats. I'll stay home.” I always write back then say “don't be stupid”. But nevertheless, you know, there is that.

I have two words to answer that the Supreme Court. Yeah, I mean, if you consider now what happened with the Gore race and the Clinton race, and then complain about the people who have been appointed to the Supreme Court, it's inconsistent. Because it strikes me that those who stayed home in the Gore race or those who didn't think he was enough of a Democrat or those that didn't think Hillary Clinton was enough of a Democrat and certainly with some members of the Supreme Court aging, it strikes me that this is going to be a fundamental election. I mean, many of the decisions that have been rendered in recent times have come from the courts, and anybody who has an eye for how the Senate functions. Mitch McConnell has really very successfully, we talked about is almost a turnstile of having Republican appointees in record time put on the federal bench.

Well, no, you're my favorite congressman. And one of the reasons is that you're so smart. I know. You're not gonna say oh, you know, I mean, but you are, you're really smart, but I went around preaching that particular gospel in the last election. And, you know, where were the folks who didn't understand what the Supreme Court was gonna mean?

Well, what certainly strikes me is when you look back to some of the great decisions that were even reached on individual liberty and in the 50s with the Warren Court, and you look at the advances that were made in the 60s with the extraordinary advances in civil rights, environmental concerns and all, and you look at the individuals that Bill Clinton appointed to the court and Barack Obama, and you come to a very different conclusion. I think that those of us who believe that there is a very important role for government every day, and an activist government, that the Supreme Court in the end is, for good reason, the important balance of the constitutional system.

Well, you know, we both believe that but the point of the matter is that I'm afraid that not enough people who are out there, get that part of what's going on. You're exactly right. Those are the two words. Supreme Court. All right, thanks to Congressman Richie Neal, my congressman, first district of Massachusetts and one of the smartest men I have ever met and that certainly goes for what he knows about U.S. government and the Constitution. So thanks for being with us, Richie. And when we're with you the next time we have a lot more questions to ask you.

Thanks, Alan.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.