Although U.S. Rep. Richard Neal is poised to potentially take over the powerful House Ways and Means Committee if the chamber shifts to Democratic control next year, a Springfield attorney challenging the longtime congressman has questioned whether such clout would benefit the district.
Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who is looking to unseat the Springfield Democrat in the 2018 primary, argued that while some have raised concerns about losing Neal’s seniority, she doesn’t believe his status as the Ways and Means ranking member has helped Western Massachusetts constituents or that a possible chairmanship would change that.
Pointing to Neal’s tenure on the panel, which largely deals with tax and trade issues, Amatul-Wadud contended that his voting record and support for various policies “suggest he would pursue an agenda favored by corporate special interests as opposed to (one favored by) constituents in our congressional district,” if named chairman.
The Democrat took specific issue with the congressman’s support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — a trade deal which she said has been criticized as an attack on consumer and environmental laws.
She argued that Neal was not among the five Ways and Means Committee Democrats to sign a December 2014 letter to President Barack Obama objecting to the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions included in the trade deal.
Amatul-Wadud further contended that Neal “pushed a corporate tax loophole” in 2015, known as the “innovation box,” that sought to tax profits on intellectual property at a lower rate than other profits.
The congressional hopeful also criticized his handling of a 2015 policy to renew Trade Promotion Authority, arguing that he “refused to meet with citizens at his district offices” to discuss his position on the issue.
Amatul-Wadud argued that while Neal voted against TPA “under tremendous pressure from organized labor and other constituents,” he collected nearly $946,000 in campaign contributions from corporations backing TPA, as well as $21,000 from anti-TPA donors ahead of the June 2015 vote.
“These actions raise serious questions about whose side Mr. Neal would be on if he were to wield the gavel of the powerful Ways and Means Committee as its next chair,” she said in a statement.
Noting that the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey found the 1st congressional district has the lowest median household income, the second-highest unemployment rate and the second-highest percentage of families/people below the poverty level in Massachusetts, she argued that Neal’s “membership hasn’t served us yet.”
“We literally can’t afford a chair or ranking minority member who will exacerbate income inequality and wage stagnation,” Amatul-Wadud said.
Peter Panos, a spokesman for Neal’s 2018 re-election campaign, however, argued that the congressman’s experience and position on Capitol Hill is needed given the Trump administration and Republicans’ efforts to cut “taxes for the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class.”
“Congressman Neal is fighting on behalf of working families to expand access to healthcare, defend Social Security and Medicare, and increase wages,” he said in an email.
Panos added that if Neal becomes the next Ways and Means Committee chairman he “can have a transformative local and national impact on economic growth policies to help working people, like he has with initiatives restoring the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, as well as Springfield’s Union Station, and helping to secure federal funding for the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, which provides affordable housing.”
Neal, who is the dean of both the Massachusetts and New England congressional delegations, became the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee in December 2016.
Amatul-Wadud, a member of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women and board member for the Massachusetts Council of American-Islamic Relations, announced her campaign and discussed her vision for the state’s 1st Congressional District during a series of Dec. 19 stops across Western Massachusetts.
Massachusetts will hold its 2018 primary elections on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
– Shannon Young | [email protected]