Our Opinion: Neal's long preparation for high-profile post

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Since Democrats won control of the House in Tuesday's midterm election, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal is poised to be chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means come January. The 16-term congressman from our 1st Congressional District has served on Ways and Means since 1993.

With his 25 years on the committee, Mr. Neal will lead oversight and shape matters of critical importance to Americans: Social Security, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, foster care and adoption. He will be front and center in defending these programs from assault by the Republican Senate.

Mr. Neal has been described as a low-profile member of Congress, eschewing the TV facetime and sound-bite politicking of more recognizable colleagues.

Whether he likes it or not, his star is about to rise.

At a press conference last week in Springfield, Mr. Neal said his presumptive chairmanship represents the pinnacle of his career. In so doing, he displayed the composure that has propelled him this far, a demeanor that will serve him well as chairman.

This year, Democrats in Congress watched Republicans ram into law a budget-busting tax cut, and partisanship would seem to dictate retaliation for that in a House under Democratic control. But Mr. Neal has listed the defense of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a cap on prescription drug costs as his main concerns.

Mr. Neal has the power to subpoena President Trump's tax returns. But unlike the liberal wing of his party, he doesn't see how immediate action on that front helps when it comes to working across the aisle to help all Americans. He is mindful that voters across the country did not confer majority status on Democrats to exact retribution, but to act as a check on presidential power and to compel factions within Congress to work together. This is not to say that he would not act forcefully and in a measured manner to exercise that check when the time is right.

When it comes to the dispensing of federal funds and attention, Rep. Neal's ascendancy would seem to ensure his Western Massachusetts district is toward the front of the line. Presumably, his 1st Congressional District's fight for a piece of the federal pie will be easier.

Mr. Neal's big task will be crafting a plan to boost the middle class — a plan that President Trump and Senate Republicans can also embrace. Considering Mr. Neal's experience and ability to work across the aisle, he may have a better chance of any House Democrat to get this done.




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