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Where There’s a Way, There’s a Means…

 *Update, WMassP&I has learned the Democratic Caucus has rejected Neal’s recommendation from a steering committee.  Sander Levin will be the ranking member on Ways and Means.

Western Mass Politics & Insight has learned that Cong. Richard Neal of Springfield has cleared a major hurdle to become the Democrat’s ranking member on the Committee on Ways and Means.  Both the Republican and the Boston Globe confirm this.  At a steering committee meeting, Neal beat out Michigan Congressman, Sander Levin, who has more seniority than Neal.  The news is an incredible coup for the Springfield Democrat putting himself and his district in a position of considerable influence.

Levin has been chairman of the committee since New York Representative Charles Rangel stepped down pending an ethics investigation.  On December 2, the House censured Rangel for those charges.  Technically, California Congressman Pete Stark had more seniority than even Levin, but he stepped aside to hold onto his subcommittee chairmanship.  Two other congressmen held more seniority than Neal, Washington Rep. Jim McDermott and Georgia Rep John Lewis, a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement.  Neither had expressed public interest in the ranking position.

Neal’s confirmation as ranking member still requires caucus-wide approval, but the above sources say he expects to receive it.  Levin would likely remain chairman, nominally, until January when Democrats go into the minority.  The minority party’s most senior member of a committee is called their “ranking” member.

Ways and Means governs Social Security, Medicare, trade tariffs, unemployment, TANF, and tax laws.  Even in the minority, Neal stands to have a great deal of power as his party’s point man  defending Democrats’ agenda and as a negotiator with Republicans.  The Republican chairman of Ways and Means in January is expected to be David Camp of Midland, Michigan.