House Democrat says panel will revisit taxes, infrastructure

BOSTON — The Democrat poised to take the reins of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee said Tuesday the panel would revisit elements of the tax law approved by the Republican-led Congress, and raised hopes for bipartisan agreement on an infrastructure bill.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, is all but certain to assume the chairmanship when the Democrats take over control of the House in the new Congress next month. Neal supports the return of Nancy Pelosi as speaker and predicted the California Democrat will win "overwhelmingly" despite resistance from some members — including fellow Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton — who advocate new leadership.

Neal, 73, a moderate first elected to the House in 1989, will be a major power broker in the House as chair of Ways and Means. The committee's responsibilities include tax policy, trade and tariffs, Social Security and Medicare among other issues.

Outlining his priorities before a gathering of New England business leaders in Boston, Neal said while there is "no shortage of outrage" in Washington, Democrats on Capitol Hill should "check their emotions at the door and try to build some kind of consensus on a path forward."

Neal largely avoided direct criticism of President Donald Trump and cautioned Democrats against any unnecessary escalation of investigations. Following the speech, however, he reiterated his previously-stated intention to have the committee seek release of Trump's tax returns, which the president refused to make public during his campaign and since taking office.

The panel, he said, would convene hearings on the 2017 federal tax overhaul that passed Congress on mostly party-line votes. Neal, however, did not suggest that massive changes in the law were likely. While Democrats have criticized the law as a giveaway to wealthy taxpayers and one that promises to balloon the federal deficit, their prospects for enacting major revisions are lessened by Republican control of the Senate and White House.

"In a measured, judicious way, we should seek testimony from a wide variety of views as to the tax (law) itself," Neal told reporters, arguing the bill was pushed through without public hearings. He singled out the $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes — unpopular in wealthier states such as Massachusetts — as one element of the law he would seek to revisit.

Neal told the New England Council he was encouraged by prospects for a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and that he had recently discussed the subject with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but acknowledged there was no immediate consensus on how to finance what could be a $1 trillion bill.

"The secretary said to me, 'how do you intend to pay for this?' And I said I can assure you that when we reach that decision we will all be standing together to announce it," Neal said.

On trade, the Massachusetts Democrat said he expected Ways and Means to carefully scrutinize the Trump administration's renegotiated North American trade deal with Mexico and Canada, while also encouraging U.S. trade agreements with the European Union and with Great Britain after it formally exits the union.

Neal called for a lessening of trade tensions with China and said Trump's recent threats to place tariffs on all remaining U.S. imports from China, which the president repeated in an interview Monday with the Wall Street Journal, "at some point begins to have a very negative effect."

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