Responsibilities: Neal chairs arguably the most powerful committee in the House of Representatives. Ways and Means has control over tax policy, Social Security, Medicare and trade. As chairman, he sets the agenda for his committee and is responsible for shepherding legislation through the panel.
Current priorities: Oppose efforts to privatize Social Security or make big cuts to Medicare. Shore up multiemployer pension plans. Make it easier for people to set aside money for retirement by working on the federal level to build something like the “work-and-save” programs set up by some states.
At A Glance
Hometown: Worcester, Mass.
Time in office: Became Ways and Means chairman in January 2019
Personal: Married with four children
Background: Neal has appreciated the importance of Social Security since he was in high school. His parents died when he was a teenager, and Social Security survivor benefits allowed him and his two younger sisters to live together with their grandmother and, later, an aunt. Neal has been in politics for most of his career. After briefly teaching high school history and government, at 23 he became an assistant to the mayor of Springfield, Mass. He was elected to the Springfield City Council at 28 and mayor at 34. He has been in Congress since 1989. He still lectures at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
What he says:
On prescription drugs: “The challenge is, how do you stabilize prices and not kill innovation? We all agree that breakthrough medications have been transformative. But innovation won't do you any good if you can't afford it."
On the role of government: “Private sector creates wealth, but government creates opportunity."
On Social Security: “When you look at the efficiency of the system, it's pretty remarkable. I would always oppose any notion of privatizing Social Security. Keeping a good, strong safety net is very, very important."
On Medicaid: “It has quickly evolved from a program for the poor to now what has effectively become long-term care in America."
What people are saying:
"Congressman Neal is at the forefront of House Democrats’ For The People agenda, to lower the cost of health care and the price of prescription drugs, and has been an outstanding leader to protect the retirement security, pensions, savings and benefits that seniors have earned,” says Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
"I have a great deal of respect for Richie,” says Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), former Ways and Means chairman and currently the ranking Republican on the panel. “We have always had a strong tradition of bipartisanship. I'm hopeful this year we can continue to work together to continue growing our economy — through expanding retirement savings, working to lower out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs, redesigning the IRS, and on expanding our nation's infrastructure."
"I expect Representative Neal to be someone who mostly runs his committee in the halls of Congress, rather than in front of the cameras or on social media,” says John Baick, a history professor at Western New England University who has tracked Neal's career. “He has spent decades in politics, but reaching a pinnacle of power is unlikely to go to his head. The formula is simple: Find important issues that can receive support from both sides of the aisle, find the money, and make a difference.”