Biden’s Tax Hike Push Will Depend on This ‘Insider’s Insider’

President Joe Biden’s push for the first major federal tax increase since 1993 now rests on the shoulders of Richard Neal.

It’s a career moment that comes full circle for Neal, who chairs the House committee responsible for writing the legislation. He joined the key tax-writing body during the battle for that last wave of increases.

Neal says he learned a key lesson during the 1993 effort: Ensure that the tax increase that you vote for actually gets enacted, or you’re left politically all the more vulnerable, with no result to point to. When he and other House Democrats back then voted for an innovative tax on energy, it ended up dying in the Senate.

“It was this vacuous endeavor,” Neal, 72, recalled in an interview in his office at the U.S. Capitol this month. “We were stuck with a tax-increase vote and no policy achievement.”

The episode serves as background to Neal’s current work figuring out what tax increases he can shepherd through a Democratic caucus that has razor-thin control of the House and Senate. While progressives are determined to boost levies on wealthy Americans and corporations to fund more spending on social programs, moderates, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have expressed concerns.

It’s hard to argue that Neal, a 32-year veteran of the House from Massachusetts, isn’t suited to the task. Dubbed “an insider’s insider” by New England’s newspaper of record, the Boston Globe, he has spoken with pride about focusing on committee work and staying out of the limelight -- quoting fellow Bay Stater John McCormack, the House speaker for most of the 1960s: “You never have to explain anything you didn’t say.”

A moderate, he represents a Massachusetts district that extends from Springfield west to the Berkshires and has faced down progressive challengers in the past two primaries. He cites his work with Manchin on pension issues, but he’s also made allies among progressives. He was the first member of Congress to endorse Senator Elizabeth Warren, also from Massachusetts, in her run for the party’s presidential nomination.

“I don’t think he has any enemies,” said Barney Frank, who served with Neal in the House’s Massachusetts delegation for more than two decades.