Some things happen in Washington with great fanfare, noise, uproar. Some things happen rather more quietly.

The latter measure applies to the rise of Congressman Richard Neal up his Democratic Party’s chain of command on Capitol Hill.

As one of the most active Irish American legislators on matters of Irish American interest, Neal occupies a political niche alongside the likes of fellow Democrat Joe Crowley, and Republican colleague Peter King.

But while Crowley’s recent ascendance through the Democratic Party leadership ranks attracted a lot of coverage, less airtime and ink has been devoted to Neal’s rise in what is generally considered to be the most crucial committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ways and Means.

Ways and Means doesn’t sound all that exciting.

But its brief is about as big as it can get on Capitol Hill. The committee deals with taxes, health care, Medicare, Social Security, welfare and international trade.

Such is the critical importance of the committee’s brief that members cannot serve on any other House panel unless they secure a special waiver.

Neal, 67, is a senior member of the House at this juncture.

He has held a seat since his first election for the Massachusetts 2nd District in 1989.

After redistricting, the married father of four now represents the state’s 1st District.

Being a congressman for 27 years means that Neal would, by now, have attained at least relative seniority on the committee that has been the primary focus of his political ambitions.

And that is indeed the case.

But when your party’s ranking member on the committee is eighteen years older than you are, it does put things in perspective.

Attaining seniority on a congressional committee, and for sure leadership, can be something of a long haul.

But now and again circumstances intervene and accelerate a normally slow and predictable process.

Circumstances have just intervened on behalf of Congressman Neal.

Congressman Sander Levin is the current Ranking Member of Ways and Means.

The committee chairman is Republican Congressman Kevin Brady from Texas.

Rep. Levin, though recently reelected to another two-year House term, decided to relinquish his ranking position.

Next in line for the Democrats was Xavier Becerra from California.

Becerra is only 58, so for a moment it appeared that Neal, despite all his years on the committee, was on the wrong side of the age line.

But now Becerra is packing his bags to return to California to take up the job of attorney general in the Golden State.

And that leaves Neal a clear path to the Ranking Member’s chair.

It’s the minority chair of course, but that does not mean a diminished workload.

Neal will now find himself front and center in what could be a no-holds barred battle on Capitol Hill over taxes, healthcare and infrastructure spending to name just a few areas of contention for the new Congress. 

Neal, a former Irish Echo Irish American of the Year, told the Echo that he was looking forward to having to deal with all the “big stuff.”

He will be carrying his party’s banner as Republicans set about implementing their agenda - one that includes the shredding of the Affordable Care Act and a package of tax cuts that Neal says should benefit the middle class and not the rich.

Neal is an avid reader and finds the time to teach a course at the University of Massachusetts covering the relationship between politicians and journalists, a subject that is also certain to come into sharper relief with the arrival of a new president who, during the campaign, declared that members of the media were the lowest form of “humanity” and/or life.

Reading for pleasure and walking the line between President-elect Trump’s view of journalists and his own rather more measure version will be a little more difficult for Congressman Neal to fit in as the new Congress convenes, and the Ways and Means Committee sets about the business of literally tearing up and reworking legislation that daily affects the lives of all Americans.

“I’m ready,” said Rep. Neal with a smile, and only the slightest furrow of his brow.

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This article appears courtesy of the Irish Echo. For more, visit their website.

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