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U.S. Congressman Neal Discusses Economy and Politics Post-Elections

Jim Levulis

Massachusetts U.S. Congressman Richard Neal made it out to the westernmost portion of his district today.

The Democrat spoke to members of the Pittsfield Rotary Club on a wide range of topics including what’s ahead for the federal government in terms of the economy and the debt ceiling.

“Getting through the budget cycle, that’s perhaps the most prominent,” Neal said. “I can assure you that there’s not going to be another government shutdown. At the same time looking for a small budget agreement by December 15, I think would build some confidence, gain some traction and then take us to the debt ceiling debate in again mid-January where it would be approached in an adult manner.”

Pointing to the nation’s recent tepid job growth, Neal says the biggest plague on the economy are middle income earners not putting money back into the economy because of a lack of job demand and confidence. He offered his solution to get people back to work.

“We need a good, big infrastructure initiative in America,” he said. “The highways, roadways, airports, bridges and railroads in America are falling apart. We haven’t done a big spending bill in years.”

A member of the Ways and Means Committee, Neal says the current tax system prohibits economic growth because it is complex and outdated, not having undergone significant change since 1986.

“A company like United Technologies in Hartford, CT, they have 19,000 pages of tax forms that they have to submit,” Neal explained. “There are 12 IRS agents that work right on site. That’s an example of the $160 billion a year that Americans spend on tax compliance.”

Neal also defended Medicare and Medicaid by explaining how they impact regional health care providers like Berkshire Health Systems.

“Half of their money comes from Medicare,” the congressman said. “Another 10 to 15 percent comes from Medicaid. That keeps the lights on.”

The congressman spoke about the polarization of national politics, but sees hope in recent election results specifically in the area of immigration reform.

“There is considerable room here on the immigration reform front,” the Democrat said. “I think that you saw candidacies in Virginia and in New Jersey with one Democrat winning and one Republican winning, but both being in favor of immigration reform. I think that’s one position that former President Bush and President Obama both agree on. I think that there’s enough goodwill in the House to get something up and passed.”

Neal remains optimistic about the government working out the kinks of the new health care website. He says the Affordable Care Act has benefits that have already gone into effect, such as a ban on denying coverage for preexisting conditions. Neal says he sees an economic bright spot in the nation’s growing energy independence. He says he’s surprised by instant opposition to alternative energy and says Congress can support clean energy investments through tax incentives.

“Natural gas is putting coal on the sideline,” he said. “It’s pretty wild when you look at this. It’s an underreported story in America. In the next year we are going to produce more oil than Saudi Arabia.”

Phillip Massery has been a Rotarian for nearly 25 years.

“The biggest concern that I had when we lost a congressional seat in Massachusetts was that Berkshire County has lost their congressman,” Massery said. “We don’t have one anymore. We got blended in with Congressman Neal’s district. He has put my concerns to rest today.”

Neal also made stops to teach a civics class at Taconic High School and speak at a meeting of Berkshire Children and Families.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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