Key House Democrat promises hearings on GOP tax package

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — The Democratic lawmaker poised to lead the powerful tax-writing committee in the U.S. House said he would consider President Donald Trump's proposal for a middle-income tax cut, but only if there are adjustments on tax rates for top income earners.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, of Massachusetts, is the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee and is expected to take over as chairman of the panel when the Democrats assume control of the House in January after winning a majority of seats in Tuesday's election.

Neal promised the committee would hold hearings on the $1.5 trillion tax cut pushed through by Republicans last year.

"The tax bill was written in 51 days without one hearing or without one witness offering testimony," Neal said during a wide-ranging news conference in Massachusetts on Wednesday.

Republicans, he said, had expected the massive tax package to solidify their hold on the House, but the election results demonstrate it fell on "deaf ears" with voters.

Critics say the law is skewed to benefit wealthy taxpayers and corporations and is helping fuel record federal budget deficits.

Trump said last month he wanted Congress to cut taxes by about 10 percent for middle-income people after the midterm elections, though he has yet to offer specifics.

While describing Trump's proposal as a "campaign tactic," Neal added that the president's request might be able to be fulfilled if the administration is prepared to make accommodations. Neal cited changes to the top individual rate as an example of what would help the bill pass.

Though Democrats will have a majority in the House, Neal said he was mindful of the reality that Republicans still control the Senate and Trump has a presidential veto.

During his own Wednesday press conference, Trump said if Democrats offered an idea for middle-income tax cuts he would work with them, and said, "I would certainly be willing to do a little bit," when asked if he might consider adjustments to other tax rates.

The House Ways and Means Committee also has oversight of trade and tariffs, and Neal said his party was prepared to reset the trade agenda by aggressively scrutinizing the renegotiated North American trade deal and back trade talks with the United Kingdom and European Union.

Neal said he expected Trump's trade deal with Mexico and Canada to come before his committee soon and Democrats, who traditionally support labor unions, will want to ensure that international trade benefits American workers. He said he's had conversations with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who he said shares many of his views on how to enforce the treaty.

The European Union's stated objective for negotiating a trade deal with the U.S. was also an important consideration, Neal added, as was the potential for a bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom after it leaves the European Union at the end of the process known as Brexit.

Neal said an agreement with the UK should also permanently eliminate the border in Northern Ireland. He's long been active in the Northern Ireland peace process and is the Democratic leader of the Friends of Ireland Caucus.

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