WASHINGTON – The ethics conviction today of Representative Charles Rangel paves the way for Representative Richard Neal to seek the top Democratic spot on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Neal, a Springfield Democrat, has been laying the groundwork for the past year to leap-frog several more senior Democrats to win the powerful chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. With Republicans winning the majority, the gavel will likely go to Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican.
But Neal is now expected to make a bid for ranking member of the committee, which would put him as the Democratic point man on one of the most pivotal committees under a Republican House leadership – one that will deal with deficits, taxes, and potentially changes to social security or Medicaid.
Neal’s decision has hinged on the outcome of the ethics trial for Rangel, the New York Democrat who left his position as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee earlier this year amid the ethics allegations. Neal may have to challenge Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat who assumed the chairmanship after Rangel stepped down and has more seniority on the committee than Neal.
Neal last week sent a letter to colleagues announcing his candidacy, if Rangel is not returned to the post. Rangel was convicted today on 11 House ethics violations.
The issue is still sensitive because the ethics committee has not announced a punishment for Rangel, and the longtime Democrat has not announced his plans. Rangel also has significant support from the Congressional Black Caucus, whose backing could be key for Neal’s bid.
Neal declined to comment, but sources close to him said they expect him to make a run for the post and he has already started seeking commitments.
“As we chart our course forward after the election, I believe I will be the best candidate to lead the Ways and Means Committee Democrats, to contrast our message with House Republicans, and to articulate our values and beliefs as we move into the future,” Neal wrote last week in his letter, which was obtained by the Globe. “We will face many challenges in the 112th Congress that will require strong and effective leadership. If we are to return to the majority, our message to the American people must be coherent, emphatic and clear. We need to create jobs and strengthen the economy. We need to lower and simplify taxes. And we must preserve and protect Social Security and Medicare.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.