SPRINGFIELD — As U.S. Rep. Richard Neal leads work on Democrats’ proposed $3.5 trillion spending plan, constituents have continued to keep pressure on the Springfield Democrat.
More than 60 people gathered outside Neal’s Springfield office on Monday to call for full funding of the plan. Neal, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, is leading markup hearings on the bill, giving him significant influence over the legislation.
“Sometimes he’s just one member of Congress, but now it’s his bill,” said Russell Freedman, a Lanesborough resident and state director of Progressive Democrats of America. “He ran for reelection saying, ‘I’m the chair of Ways and Means. I have all this power.’ And now is the time for him to be a champion, be a hero.”
Climate organizers, faith leaders and others who spoke Monday said the full $3.5 trillion is necessary to fund major investments in climate, care and jobs, among other priorities. Some observers also have cited the plan as a possible mechanism to expand Medicare and pass protections for workers’ right to organize.
The $3.5 trillion plan is separate from a $1.5 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The larger plan is set to go through the budget reconciliation process, meaning that Democrats can pass the legislation without facing a filibuster in the Senate.
House Democrats on Sunday began to roll out a set of tax increases for wealthy individuals and corporations that they said would raise $2.9 trillion over 10 years. Lawmakers told the Washington Post that the plan could fully fund the $3.5 trillion bill, since lawmakers include the economic activity generated by spending in calculations.
The plan would bring the top corporate tax rate up from 21 percent to 26.5 percent and bring the top income tax rate back up from 37 percent to 39.6 percent. It left out a proposal from President Joe Biden to prevent billionaires from giving tax-free inheritances to their heirs.
Neal, who had been hesitant to share his beliefs on how to fund the $3.5 trillion plan, said in a Monday news release that Democrats’ proposals would “expand opportunity for the American people.” He said that Democrats can address climate change, create good jobs and lower health care costs “while responsibly funding our plans.”
Climate groups, however, expressed discontent that the Ways and Means Committee has not pursued an end to federal fossil fuel subsidies. Oil Change International estimated in 2017 that the federal government gives away nearly $15 billion per year in those tax breaks.
A spokesperson for Neal did not immediately return a phone call Monday.
“The best way to stop them from digging up the oil and fracking the wells is to stop paying them money to do it,” Drew Hudson, senior national organizer for Friends of the Earth, said at the Springfield rally. “This is not something we’re going to solve by driving less or using Priuses or whatever. This is a job for the government to stop giving our money to the people who are literally fueling the climate crisis that is burning down homes on the West Coast, that is flooding our homes in the East.”
Nadia Milleron, of Sheffield, said that some local organizers also have put pressure on Neal to increase funding for the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on tax avoidance.
“There are many corporations that don’t pay their taxes and the IRS doesn’t have the ability, they don’t have the funding to go after those big people who don’t pay,” Milleron said.
Beyond Neal, moderate Democrats in the Senate may play a key role in shaping the package. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, has said he would not support a bill as large as $3.5 trillion. Manchin has suggested cutting spending in half, leading U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to respond that such cuts would be “unacceptable.”
Freedman, the Lanesborough resident, said he believes “we need as much as we can get, and $3.5 trillion is what the president asked for.”
“If Democrats don’t really do something significant, they’re going to have a hard time going to voters asking them to reelect them,” Freedman said. “And if you get a Republican-controlled Congress, they’re not going to do anything about climate. This is our best, last chance.”