WASHINGTON – Two Democrats who have experience with municipal bonds, one much more so than the other, are vying to replace Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., as ranking minority member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee that will play a key role in tax reform efforts.
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., a former mayor of Springfield who is a huge supporter of munis and has introduced several muni-friendly bills over the years, threw his hat into the ring on Tuesday soon after Levin, D-Mich., announced he would not seek reelection as the top Democrat on the committee.
Levin, 85, said he was not running for reelection to give younger panel members as well as those more experienced the opportunity to gain seniority.
In a release, he said the election of Donald Trump as president and the incoming administration are an "all hands on deck moment" never before faced by Democrats. Levin also said he wants to focus on health care and trade legislation, which he cited as his other passions.
A member of the House since 1988, Neal, 67, has been a long-time supporter of simplifying the federal tax code and repealing the alternative minimum tax. He has lots of experience working on tax, Medicare, social security and welfare issues and is more senior on the committee than his opponent, Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.
In a letter to Democratic colleagues, Neal said that Democrats suffered "devastating" political losses in the election, and stressed the accomplishments he has had while on the Ways and Means Committee, including expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and working for tax policies he said are fair to working families and small businesses. He said these policies are in danger from the Republican victories this month.
"Now more than ever these policies are in danger of being rolled back to devastating levels and need to be protected," Neal said. "It is because of these reasons and more, I ask for your support for my candidacy at this unprecedented moment in the recent history of the committee."
Most recently in May of this year Neal introduced H.R. 5361, which would allow tax-exempt bonds to be used to finance certain government-owned buildings. Prior to that, in June 2015, he introduced the Build America Bonds Act of 2015, which would permanently reinstate and expand the BAB program. BABs are taxable bonds in which issuers receive subsidy payments from the Treasury Department equal to a certain percentage of their interest cost.
Becerra, a co-sponsor of Neal's BABs bill, also is pushing for the job. He was first elected to the House in 1992 and is chair of the House Democratic Caucus but is term-limited in that position.
He told colleagues in a letter on Tuesday, "With the White House and Congress in Republican hands, we need a strong, experienced and energetic leader who will take the fight for our democratic values on the Ways and Means Committee to the American people. Over the years, I have prepared for just such an assignment."
Becerra, 58, is being backed by Levin, who told colleagues, "The Republicans are really trying to tear apart every single thing that we've put together, and Xavier has shown the ability to be faithful to our values and find a way to try and implement them effectively."
"Xavier brings the perfect set of talents to the challenges we face on the committee and in the House as we prepare to confront the uniquely destructive combination of President Trump and Speaker Ryan," Levin said. "Having served with Xavier and worked closely with him on the committee, I am confident that he is the type of next generation leader that we need to fully assume the mantle of leadership in the battles of the next four years."
Becerra does not have Neal's experience with municipal bonds. But he has served on several high-profile committees, including the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The committee's report included the idea of doing away with the tax-exempt status of munis in an "illustrative proposal" for several sweeping tax law changes. He also served on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.
Bill Daly, director of governmental affairs for the National Association of Bond Lawyers, also highlighted Neal's experience in local government as a possible plus for munis. Daly also said that he has worked with Levin and his staff in various capacities, calling them "first class."
"Whoever replaces him --- either Neal or Becerra — will be really good," Daly said. "As the former mayor of Springfield, Neal does understand bonds."