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Congressional Corner With Richard Neal

Congressman Richard Neal
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A new administration is coming in.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Massachusetts Democrat Richard Neal of the 1st district wraps up his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

This interview with was recorded January 11.

Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with my congressman from the first beautiful district of Massachusetts, Richie Neal. Richie, I'm so delighted that you're with us, that you make time, because you are so busy with Ways and Means and all of your responsibilities. And we really do appreciate it. So let me let me start by asking you about the President's Cabinet. Are you happy?

Representative Richard Neal: Thrilled. I've known many of them for a long period of time. As you know, the Ways and Means Committee will have supervisory capacity as it relates to the Department of Treasury, and parts of Health and Human Services as well. The selection at HUD with Marcia Fudge, she's a dear friend of mine in the House. I’ve known as Xavier Bacerra, he was a member of the Ways and Means Committee. I've talked extensively already to Janet Yellen. I couldn't be any happier, with her selection as well. Seasoned, I think very mature, and also very measured, in her response. I mean, when you consider that she has had responsibilities with the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and now Secretary of the Treasury, those are all extraordinarily important and responsible functions. And I also think that Merrick Garland, as the attorney general, is a superb appointment. So across the board, I'm happy. And I think that they all reflect the institutional wisdom of the system that Joe Biden has embraced during all of these years. And I think that it will portend very good things for the American family.

So Richie, Neal, will Americans get another stimulus payment? Will it be $2,000?

Well, I think what it would be now is $1400, considering that the $600 has already moved through the system electronically. And I do think you're going to need another round of that paycheck protection. And I also think that there's going to have to be consideration to another round of small business loans. Unemployment insurance is also, when you consider that 19 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, we're going to need another round of that as well. And I also think, state and local governments are going to need some help. President-Elect Biden has already said that that's on the agenda. And with those two successful elections in Georgia, I see no reason now, why they can’t pull through.

Richie Neal, you're a student of Congress. And the big issue, of course, in the United States Senate is the House would pass bills, the Senate wouldn't even allow them to be voted on. Because if they voted on them, you know, some of those Republicans would have been in a bad place. So now I take it, that the big change will be that those bills are gonna get voted on, even though it's gonna be 50/50 plus the vice president.

A lot of those Republican senators, they had the best of both worlds when they would publicly say they favored the $2,000. And then privately say to Mitch McConnell, we would prefer this not come up for a vote. I mean the majority leader, as is the case of the Speaker of the House, they actually have two constituencies. They have a constituency back home, but they have a constituency within the institution, that they've been elected to lead based on a party caucus vote. So I think that in the case of McConnell, he's pretty savvy at using the rules on the inside. But I also think Chuck Schumer can be pretty savvy using these rules as well. So I think with a Democratic president, and a Democratic Senate, ever so narrowly, as was the case in the House of Representatives, that there are a lot of things that we can agree on in terms of expanding healthcare, I think in terms of infrastructure, and I think those impact economic payments, as well. So all of that can be done pretty fast, incidentally.

Are you proud of Nancy Pelosi?

Yes, I am. I've known her for a long time, we've been in the house for a long, long period of time together. She's the most effective Speaker that I've witnessed in my time. I also think that she's been a bulwark against these abuses from the executive branch that we've witnessed during the last four years. That was not the case with George W. Bush. That is not the case with George Bush Senior who said he voted for Hillary Clinton. And I can't imagine that those relationships that once existed in that institutions between legislature and executive, which were based upon some courtesies, can be easily rematched today. And I happen to think that if there is an individual who will go out of his way to court, even the minority, it will be Joe Biden. He like to bring them aboard, you know, great things can happen if they're done in a bipartisan manner. And I think that President Elect Biden he will seek out the minority in the House and the Senate to find out if they want to cooperate. And Nancy Pelosi has been the conductor of the orchestra. There's my memory, I think Joe Martin from Massachusetts was the only other Speaker in recent times who became Speaker left the speakership became Speaker again. And her career has been a testament, I think, to the fact that not only is she savvy, she's always smart, when you talk to her. I mean, it's I go through some pretty detailed tax policy and trade policy with her. Let me tell you, she's up to the conversation.

So what do you want to get done in this Congress, Richie Neal?

Well, I think as a measure, I think economic support for the American family right now is going to be perhaps the most foremost challenge we have. And then I think, part of that is addressing the pandemic, knowing that the economy is not going to get back on its feet till we defeat the virus. And I think infrastructure comes to mind. I think expanding the Affordable Care Act that comes to mind. And I think Joe Biden will be very open to some of the climate change measures that were just in this package that has been very underreported. But the Ways and Means Committee did in this last round of the $900 billion pandemic relief, we put in place the most important tax incentives to address climate change in American history, including advancing the investment tax credit, which was a must. And I must tell you that it took a lot of pretty aggressive negotiating. But when you look at wind and solar, battery storage, the renewables, they advanced more with what we did in the $900 billion package than anything we've done previously, as it relates to climate change. The problem is that these measures are underreported. And people don’t pay a lot of attention to them because if you're not doing the narrative of constant conflict, then the press has to pay a lot of attention to these things. But we in that package, it's a really, really good piece of legislative achievement.

How did the Democrats bring it off in Georgia? How’d they win the presidential vote? How did they win those two Senate seats?

Well, I think we had a great ally in Donald Trump with his acerbic rhetoric, I think that he kept challenging his own party, saying that the governor ought to be in jail. And we have two good candidates. And I think that was very helpful. You always have to have a good candidate. A lot of people miss that argument. I mean, some bad candidates slip through, but overwhelmingly, you have to have a good candidate. And I think we did that with both those senate opportunities. And I also think that there's some long term trends that are underway in American politics. And the group that's really up for grabs today, they tend to be suburban voters. That was true in the Philadelphia suburbs that helped put Biden over the top. And it was very true in Georgia. So these are the only voters that in the system, now who are really fluid. Most of the other voters, they're pretty much locked in to where they're headed on Election Day. So you go to the margins and the margins tell us that suburban independent voters are up for grabs, in the case of Biden in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and now, Georgia, these two Senate races, those suburban independent voters, vote for us.

I got one more last question for you. Health care. What are we gonna see? You got two Democratic houses, the Democratic president, what changes do you expect to see?

Well, I hope that we've expanded the Affordable Care Act, which I helped to write to 20 million Americans who did not have health insurance before. Now these governors who have been recalcitrant in their responsibilities should embrace the Affordable Care Act. The incentives are stupendous. That's how good they are. And I think that in Massachusetts, the example is right in front of us. Every child in Massachusetts has health care insurance. 95% of the adults in Massachusetts have health care insurance. This is how you could do it with some forward thinking. And I think if it means spurring on a few more incentives to the states to get on board, we should do it. Getting people into healthcare earlier on in life makes the system much more manageable for those folks later on in life.

Thank you, Richie Neal, for everything you've done. You are terrific and I’m proud to have you as my congressman. Can't wait till we talk again.

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.
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