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Congressional Corner With Richard Neal

Representative Richard E. Neal

Will the unemployed get a new round of federal payments?

In today’s Congressional Corner, Massachusetts Representative Richard Neal continues his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

This interview was recorded October 5.

Alan Chartock: We're here with Congressman Richard otherwise known to all of us as Richie, Neal. Massachusetts’ first district. He's been in office since 1989. He's the chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives, and has been largely responsible, he doesn't take credit for it, but I know it's him for writing the various recovery acts that we are now either having enjoyed or facing. Now, when you say Richie Neal $600, is it onetime $600 or do they get $600 more than once?

Congressman Richard Neal: It would be more than once and that would be part of the unemployment compensation package. Recall that in America, we have 50 different unemployment setups. So if you're in Florida, you would receive I believe, about $274 or $276 a week in unemployment insurance. In Massachusetts, that number would be over $500. But the $600 supplement that we included, based upon the idea that we had to get money into the hands of the consumer very quickly and to people who are going to need it because they lost their jobs through no fault of their own, the idea was not only to stimulate impact, but to create demand as well. And I think that the very difficult statistic that we all ought to be looking at right now is that 26 million Americans are receiving unemployment insurance. And for those families, it is not a happy circumstance to go from perhaps $1,000 or $2,000 a week, maybe more than that, all of a sudden to find yourself living on $274 a week, if you're in Florida, or $525 a week, if you're living in Massachusetts. There's a significant gap that has to be made up there. And I think most economists left right and center would all say the perhaps the most important thing we did and which the Ways and Means Committee oversees is unemployment insurance at the federal level, that the unemployment insurance package that we included in the CARES Act was perhaps the most important thing that we did.

So let me ask you this. Where are we exactly with the COVID relief bill? You've told me that the President is interested in having it, we know that the House of Representatives is super interested in having it. We know that there's some recalcitrance in the Senate and we know that Mark Meadows is negotiating this was the speaker and with you, I presume.

That’s right.

So what's the chances it's going to get done?

It has to get done. I think the reality is pretty grim is highlighted, again by what the Federal Reserve Board has been saying. And this week, we are going to actually have a chance to see the private words that the Federal Reserve Board used. Recall that there's always that lag period from the conversations they have. So I think on Wednesday, those actual words will be publicized. And we'll have a chance to get the inner thinkings of what the Federal Reserve Board says. And here's the distinction. The Federal Reserve Board is not a lender, technically, but they've embraced lending. And the Federal Reserve Board as you know, they handle what is known as monetary policy. They determine interest rates. And the Federal Reserve board's principal responsibility is twofold, one, to manage unemployment and two to manage inflation. So the Federal Reserve Board, they can give advice to Congress because Congress has the responsibility to do fiscal policy. We can generate revenue. And what happened I think successfully with the CARES Act, because I talked to Jay Paul extensively, as I did to Janet Yellen, the former head of the Federal Reserve Board, and they helped give me advice as we were writing the packages, that, again, the stimulant effect that we did with the CARES Act was going to be critical, while simultaneously making sure that there was money for our hospitals, making sure that money for the consumer and the employer and for the prospective employee as well. So all of it in terms of the combination, I think, saves the American economy. And now you have I think Senator McConnell dragging his feet on this, which I don't understand…

I don’t either.

Because you’re Susan Collins in Maine or you’re Cory Gardner, I think in Colorado, and others, you understand clearly that the American people and the American family they need this assistance right now because if you don't do it, with the virus resurging, we're gonna find ourselves trying to catch up to where we were just before the CARES Act again.

Richie, what about Governor Cuomo’s single, you know, beating of the get some money for the states and the localities? Where are we on all that?

He is absolutely right. This is about making sure that essential workers have necessary funding. This is the national principle at work and the national principle says that we all come to the aid of each other in a dire circumstance. It could be forest fires in California, could be flooding in Alabama. It could be a tornado in Springfield, Massachusetts just a few years ago. We don't say for example, are they Democrats or Republicans? Libertarians or Socialists? We say they're members of the American family and they come first. And I think that the Governor Cuomo case, and I must tell you, I talked to Governor Baker all the time about this, at least once or twice a week, and I brought him up to date. And we've helped out with some Medicaid issues for the state. And he's on board with us as is Governor Cuomo. But this is about essential services. It’s about fire. This is about the EMTs. This is about police. This is about sanitation workers. And the last thing that we did that was very important last week and the legislation we passed, we took into consideration restaurants as well. I mean, restaurants, it's estimated that up to 40% of the restaurants in America are not going to reopen. A lot of times, if you have workers and they find another job, they're not coming back. So we have made this all-encompassing, the speaker has already come down from 3.4 trillion to 2.2 trillion, the White House is at about 1.6 trillion. But I'm hoping that what the President said over the weekend, in terms of his tweet, that it was time to get this done, that's going to get some of the Senate on the Republican side to embrace the reality of just how dire the circumstances are for the American economy. The American economy, as we know, is not the stock market, and the stock market can be a good indication of where things are in terms of optimism, but the stock market is not the best snapshot of where the American family is.

I want to switch subjects for a moment because it's on everybody's mind and have your expert opinion on whether the Democrats in the Senate, the other house can do anything to hold the latest Supreme Court nomination and whether they will?

Well, I think they're pretty limited in what they can do. But I think that the COVID issue that was raised over the last few days based upon a gathering at the White House to celebrate the new nominee, I think that that should highlight why we should postpone this and let the next president make the determination. You know, what they did to Merrick Garland is one of the low points that I've witnessed in my congressional career over in the Senate. I still can't believe that an individual who by the way for republicans is, as a jurist, he always had moderate views. If Barack Obama was gonna try to radically change the court, he wouldn't have chosen Merrick Garland. Merrick Garland is known for temperament and he is known for the opinions that he's rendered, all of which are well within the framework of moderate legal thought, and then for Lindsey Graham and McConnell and others, just to reverse course, and say, well, now we're going to immediately confirm a justice and you have the huge issue coming up, that will be argued in mid-November, over the sustainability of the Affordable Care Act, those are issues that should be on all of our minds right now.

You know, Richie, it's interesting how some things force other things out of the public consciousness. So all of a sudden, we heard that the president only paid $750 in taxes. Now you're chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and you know what that means. In the year he was elected, how does the paper accessing the President's tax returns affect your ongoing lawsuit to gain access to them?

Well, I'll be careful how I describe it, because it's an active court case that I have, and the Ways and Means Committee has with the federal courts. And but at the same time, I do think that the New York Times reporting was really important. And I think it aids our case. Our case sits in front of Judge McFadden, who we believe is waiting for a decision in the McGann case, before he renders a decision on that there were two Supreme Court decisions just a couple of months ago, seven to two justices Gorsuch and Cavanaugh taking the position that congressional oversight require the administration to comply. But I think that the most important part of the New York Times reporting was the $72 million refund that the President receives, because that's the basis of our court case.

How can that happen? That seems so absurd.

That’s what we want to know. We want to know, and it plays right into the case that we have filed. We did not argue this case about policy, I'm sorry about politics. We argue this case about principle and policy. And our position has been that how the Internal Revenue Service audits a president's tax forms should be public information. And that because President Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon and before not to divulge his tax forms voluntarily, that we want an understanding of how those forms are reviewed. And we think that the case that we have presented based upon that whole idea that the IRS’s responsibility and in this instance, the $72 million refund, which is still being contested. We think that that would shed light on how the IRS handles those forms. But the only way that you can know is to see the forms.

Okay, we we’re out a time. But I want to ask you, even with this Supreme Court, you got a court case, do you have any faith that these people will do anything but the political thing?

I do, I am pleased with the decision that the court reached to a seven to two decisions. And I think that a lot of times the federal government and federal judges, I'm sorry, federal judges, they wait to hear and see what other courts do. And I think in this instance, here, that what the Supreme Court did with those decisions inures to the benefit of the case that we have argued.

So I have one more time with you, I want to make it count. And when we come back the next time, I'll ask you about all kinds of things, okay?

For sure. Thank you, 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.