Repeat after us: It sucks to be in the minority in Congress. But that is where Rep. Neal and the rest of his Democratic colleagues find themselves for the next two years.
Over the past four years, Neal reveled in the trappings of power as chair of the Committee on Ways & Means, one of the three premier panels in the House along with Appropriations and Energy & Commerce. But yesterday, Neal relinquished the gavel to Rep. Jason Smith a Republican from southeast Missouri who at 42 will be the youngest to chair the committee.
Smith, the son of a church pastor, runs the family farm that was started by his great-grandfather. The differences between him and Neal could not be more stark. Neal is urban, Smith is rural. Neal is Catholic, Smith is Pentecostal. And so it goes.
Going from Mr. Chairman to ranking minority member will be a massive power outage for Neal. Let’s break it down. Neal will lose the ability to set the policy agenda for the committee. This means he will have no say in which bills or topics the panel will spend its precious time holding hearings and markups on. In addition, Neal will only have input on selecting one witness per hearing to deliver testimony but can’t select the title or direction. Also, Democrats will lose a few professional staff positions on the committee with their new minority status. About the only thing Neal will have left is his five minutes of time to question witnesses.
Smith put out a January 9 tweet outlining his policy priorities as chair: Re-shore and strengthen supply chains. Punish unfair trade practices that benefit China at the expense of the American workforce. Unleash American energy production to build America’s energy independence and lower costs.
The focus on China trade should be interesting considering Neal has long championed China Most Favored Nation Status which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs being lost across America (and his congressional district) in the last 30 years.
The Southwick, Massachusetts-based Coalition for a Prosperous America issued a statement calling Smith an “exceptional choice” for chairman. Neal will now recede more from the limelight with respect to the Committee’s work. But he will not lose his skill for collaborating with Republicans to undermine retirement security and pensions, bolster hospitals and health insurers over the needs of patients and above all, continue to raise massive amounts of campaign contributions from these and other corporate special interests who have legislative needs before the Committee.