Longtime US Rep. Richard Neal (MA-1) thought that he had made it as the indispensable man when he became House Ways and Means Chair — in charge of tax issues. But as so often happens, particularly in an area that is so abstruse as tax law, one finds that the ambition ends once one gets there. He’s the dog who caught the car.
Neal been slow-rolling the pursuit of Trump’s tax returns. He has said he’ll sue to get them … but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. This is a kind of You Had One Job omission — what else could he want? If you’ve been voting for Democrats, surely you want to hold Trump accountable, in this very basic way? Isn’t this vitally important to the integrity of our Republic?
Is something else going on?
Well, we know that Neal likes fancy fundraisers. Deep-pocket Dem fundraiser Jack Connors gives him an unctuous defense that, I suspect, will reassure very few about Neal’s fundraising, or in the plutocratic norms that have embedded themselves in our Gilded Age politics.
And donors expect a certain level of hospitality when they are being asked to contribute (at least I do), so Representative Neal, in addition to adhering to the spirit and letter of the law, has complied with customary practices as well.
Oh, well, do carry on then.
In any event, David Dayen of the Intercept (I really can’t believe I’m quoting a Greenwald joint, but they do some good work) suggests that Neal may be holding back because he wants to get through a law allowing the conversion of 401k’s into annuities — a move of dubious worth to most ordinary jes’ folks investors, opening up that market to some nasty predatory practices, lack of transparency and high fees. But some of those fancy donors must expect that certain level of hospitality when it comes to getting their priorities through. And since Neal wants the President to actually sign this legislation, he doesn’t want to alienate Trump — yet — by playing hardball vis-a-vis the tax returns.
So here’s where Massachusetts politics plays in, particularly Western Mass. You are up to bat, 1st district. As Josh Marshall puts it:
With Neal though, I think he needs to be pushed. A lot. Prying open the President’s business interests isn’t just a matter of seeing how much money he makes or seeing how much of his money comes from people in Russia. There’s the much bigger issue of how his business interests are playing into his conduct of the nation’s foreign policy (and domestic policy for that matter) and more generally what if any financial crimes sustain his family enterprise. It’s a big deal and I don’t think it’s Neal’s biggest priority. To make it that he’ll need a lot of pressure from the outside.
Neal represents an inside-baseball, donor-cultivated, don’t-humiliate-me-in-front-of-the-money era. Democrats like Neal eagerly divide their loyalties between the donor class and the rank-and-file, which leads to morally muddled politics and, in this case, irresponsible governance.
The bluntest corrective we have is the primary challenge. For what it’s worth, here’s hoping a credible challenger emerges in MA-1; I can think of a few folks who I hope will consider it.