WASHINGTON – Representative Richard E. Neal this afternoon lost in his bid to become the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, failing to fend off a challenger and garner enough support among the full Democratic caucus.
Neal, a Springfield Democrat, had won a key endorsement last night, gaining support from the Steering and Policy Committee to become ranking member on the influential committee next year.
But his chief rival for the position – Representative Sandy Levin, a Michigan Democrat – successfully challenged that result before the full caucus.
Levin had been acting chairman of the committee since March, when Representative Charlie Rangel stopped aside amid ethics charges, and also had more seniority than Neal. But those close to Neal had been confident that, if everyone stuck by their pledges, he would win today’s caucus vote, which was cast by secret ballot.
"I congratulate my colleague Sandy Levin on his victory," Neal said this afternoon in a statement. "The election for ranking member of Ways and Means was a good reminder of how difficult it is to challenge the seniority system in Congress. But I look forward to continuing my work on the Committee, and working with the members of the Democtaic Caucus to regain the majority in 2012."
The Committee on Ways and Means has broad oversight of Social Security, Medicare, tariffs, and trade agreements. Every tax proposal that raises revenue begins in the committee. At a time when there is growing concern over the deficit and tax policies, the committee will be an extraordinarily active one. Under Republicans, the committee could also try to strip parts of President Obama’s signature health care legislation.
“I look forward to working with all of our Ranking Members and the new Republican committee chairmen to create jobs and reduce the deficit in a bipartisan way,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement announcing the vote.
As expected, the caucus also selected Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat, to be ranking member of the Financial Services Committee.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.