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Congressional Corner With Richard Neal

Representative Richard E. Neal
Representative Richard E. Neal

Western Massachusetts voters are sticking with their longtime representative.

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

This interview was recorded October 5.

Alan Chartock: Here I am in the Congressional Corner with one of my favorite people, not only on the show, but in the world, Congressman Richie Neal, Massachusetts first district, my district, my congressman. He's been in office since 1989. He's the chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. And he just won a tremendous, I mean, tremendous victory in a primary election. First of all, congratulations, Richie, you know, 19 points, 20 points. That's a lot of points to beat somebody by?

Representative Richard Neal: Well, I certainly was delighted with the result. And I can say with all factual information that that was the size of the victory from the time that the respective candidates announced. We were never in a perilous position. We adhered very much to a carefully thought through plan and stayed with it. And clearly the result was what we envisioned.

There was obviously a lot of money behind the other candidate. Have we decided where all that money came from? I mean, you couldn't turn the television on. Somebody was giving him money.

Well, there's this is the whole issue that I think was raised by the Citizens United case. And the Citizens United case, as you know, was a Supreme Court decision that expanded the Buckley versus Vallejo decision of 1976. The great irony of it is that in 1976, in Buckley versus Vallejo, which is the basis of much of the debate over money and campaigns, that's when a pretty liberal Supreme Court, including Justice Brennan, I believe who many people suspect wrote the opinion, that set the stage for what they called that speech that would be enabled by money. You'll often hear people say, for example, that Buckley versus Vallejo equated money with speech, when it really did was it said that money enabled speech, but there's been no retreat from Supreme Court justices on that basis. And in fact, the decision in Citizens United, which I think wrongfully or mistakenly expanded the Buckley versus Vallejo decision, they gave that special power to corporations. And while there's not a lot of evidence that corporations have actually participated, these dark money groups have been able to assemble millions and millions of dollars to run these very carefully targeted campaigns. The other part of it, I think, that is fascinating is just before he died, Justice Stevens, he talked extensively about the problems with dark money not just in campaigns, but how it affected speech in America. And his dissent, by the way, in the Citizens United decision, I think should be a must-read for scholars, not just of the law, but for political commentators as well. I mean, the book ends at the campaign money expansion in America. They come from these two decisions.

Let's go to, again, congratulations. Let's go to the obvious question that anybody would want to ask you right now. You see a president of the United States with the COVID. Do you have any, you know, you're sitting there like the rest of us, but you're a congressman, a very powerful Congressman, and you obviously have some private thoughts or public thoughts?

Certainly, we all wish a speedy recovery to the President and the First Lady. But it now seems apparent that the events at the White House in the Rose Garden just last week, probably did more to spread the disease amongst senators and the president of Notre Dame and members of the White House staff and indeed, the President himself. So I think that the pandemic is now back at center stage in this campaign and the way that it was managed, should be I think, the subject of the debate. Clearly, the president suggested early on that the pandemic was going to go away on its own, and then promoted a series of remedies, none of which stood up under the magnifying glass of critical analysis. And now we have 210,000 people who are dead in America, 7.4 million people who have been affected by the disease. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, nowhere to be seen over the course of the weekend, which I think oughta trouble all of us. The reports that came from the White House, they were different from the medical team, in contrast to what the president's chief of staff who I've known for a long time because he was in the house, Mark Meadows had to say. Meadows depicted a much more grave situation on Saturday, and then Dr. Sean Conley. He indicated that in his analysis that he was adopting the upbeat position of the White House spinmeisters. And I think it would be troubling what's probably about this is that the pandemic should be right in front of all of us right now, because we are not going to as Speaker Pelosi has correctly pointed out, we are not going to get to full economic recovery until we defeat the virus. That's the issue.

You know, you're the chair of the Powerful Ways and Means Committee and now we're seeing information that hundreds and thousands of jobs are permanently lost as a result of this. How does that affect us, our taxes, and what you're seeing?

Well, I'm really proud of the idea that the Ways and Means wrote most of the CARES Act. That was the $1,200 stimulus check. That was the additional money for our hospitals. That was the expansion of the retention tax credit to keep people working. And that was part of the aid to the American family and the Paycheck Protection Program, which in the first congressional district alone, benefited 10,400 businesses who took those loans. And we have to do another one. That's the reality of where we find ourselves. Economic recovery is stagnant. I think that's why the President tweeted out over the weekend that the danger for all of us now is as we proceed to winter and the resurgence of the virus, that this is going to get worse. And the truth is that this matters very simple that we need, again, stimulus to move the American economy forward. And I'm very proud of the fact that last week on the House floor, I led the argument at the behest of the Speaker on what we consider to be CARES 2.0. So she now indicated yesterday, once again, with great clarity, that we need more stimulus, the President said we need more stimulus, and the American people simply are going to have to urge the Republican members of the U.S. Senate to embrace an expansion of aid to the American family. They're going to be hurting right now, those checks were essential to building a bridge to economic recovery, because not only do they provide sustenance for people, but they help them create demand. And I also think that people are gonna have trouble paying rents, which means that that's going to seep into the problems that property owners are going to have making their property taxes and making their mortgage payments, and that will affect community matters, and credit unions and others who make these loans. So we are hardly out of the woods on all of this. And I think it's timely, that we do another stimulus package now.

Now Richie Neal. How close are we? I mean, you know, we read in the papers that there's talks and the rest. Meantime, as you correctly indicate, people are having trouble putting food on the table. The Democrats want it. The Republicans are giving you a hard time about it. Senators. And, you know, you say that the President wants to see it. But it's hard to believe that if the president told those guys in the Senate, those people I should say in the Senate, you know, let's get this done, that they wouldn't do it?

Well, I think that the president needs to get them to get with it. And I and I think that the important testimony here comes just about two weeks ago, from the Federal Reserve Board. Jay Powell is what we would have known here, Alan, when we were coming along, as a country club Republican. He's very responsible. And I can tell you that the Speaker found his testimony two weeks ago jarring as it related to economic recovery. Interest rates are at record lows, they're going to stay that way for a long period of time. That means it's going to be very bad for savers as we go forward. But until the Congress embraces its responsibility, in terms of fiscal policy, and leaving monetary policy to the Federal Reserve Board, we're gonna continue to be bumping along when people really need this help to put food on the table, as you've described.

So what's with those Republicans in the Senate? I don't get it. Why is it in their interest to hold this up?

I don't think it is. And I think that right now, the airline's industry is having trouble. You can see that what that's going to mean, layoffs. You can see that that spins out to Disney World and others, the problems that they're going to have, but that $1,200 dollars is going to allow people with the supplement that we've included of $600 I mean, Secretary Mnuchin, whom I talk to all the time, Secretary Mnuchin has indicated that he's at $400. In the supplement, we can find that agreement between $600 and $400. I can tell you that $600 and $400. Yes.

So how come it's not happening?

Well, I think Mitch McConnell is largely the obstacle. I think Republicans looked at the unemployment rate last week, as advertised at 7.5% that does not take into consideration the number of people who have stopped looking, the number of people who are on the sidelines and can't find work right away. I think all of those are statistical forms that really don't depict accurately where the American economy is right now.

Richie Neal, always a great pleasure to talk to you and again, congratulations on your massive win. And I so appreciate your agreeing, knowing that you're the chair of the Ways and Means Committee and very, very busy, to come on and talk to us. So thanks again.

I always enjoy it.

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.