Neal high on East-West Rail prospects

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Union Station Trains

BOSTON, Mass. (State House News Service)– A passenger rail link between Boston and western Massachusetts is “one of the most essential infrastructure investments we anticipate making” now that a federal infrastructure package has been signed into law, Congressman Richard Neal said Thursday.

“Trains connecting Boston to Worcester, Springfield and onto Pittsfield is a top priority of mine,” Neal, the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, said during a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event. “The money is now available to do that. It’s a matter of regional equity, and it could be a game changer for local economies beyond Boston.”

The Springfield Democrat also discussed ongoing efforts in Washington, D.C. to pass a government funding deal and his relationship with Gov. Charlie Baker.

Leading the conversation with Neal a day after Baker said he would not seek a third term, Chamber President James Rooney noted there were a “couple hundred members of the Boston business community [and] about a dozen members of the press” logged in for the virtual event, and asked the congressman if he wanted to “throw your hat in the ring for governor of Massachusetts.”

“I know they’d keep it secret,” Neal quipped. “No, but I will say this, that I had a great relationship with him. When I call him, he calls right back.” Neal said the Republican governor offers a “good lesson in public life” in that he “never used excitable language” and there was “no effort on his part to charge people up.” “I hope that the calming effect that he had on politics will be emulated by whoever is his successor,” Neal said.

Neal spoke as Congress worked toward a Friday deadline to pass a funding bill and avert a government shutdown, at one point stepping away from the livestream to cast a vote on the House floor. “For somebody who’s been in Congress the period I have, I’ve really come to dislike these artificial deadlines,” said Neal, who was first elected to the House in 1988. “And I think that the discussions generally start in April about spending, and they should be resolved by summer.”

He said he believes social media, talk radio, cable television shows and “the ideological base of the two political parties” combine to mean that “the smallest disagreement becomes the largest stalemate.”

Thursday’s legislative activity was part of “the annual battle over spending,” Neal said. “While much of it is procedural, it also sort of I think is indicative of what’s happened in the House over the last decade, two decades, where at one time what we would have perceived to be just the normal routine of continuing the argument or continuing the discussion over spending now is caught up in masks, caught up in mandates and caught up in vaccination rates,” he said.

Neal said Congress can be viewed as having three main political parties — “Republicans, Democrats and appropriators.”

“We’re in the midst of a battle right now between the appropriators, so there’s a couple of other little thorny issues on the side, but I think that if we could get this done today — which the speaker just expressed her interest in doing, finishing this today — it’ll take some pressure off to allow the appropriators to find a common agreement, hopefully in the next few days,” he said.

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