WASHINGTON — House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal's attitude toward legislating under a Democratic-led White House might aptly be described as "never let a crisis go to waste."
The Massachusetts Democrat wants to take a page from his party's 2009 playbook, when the Obama administration took office amid the wreckage of the financial crisis and enacted a nearly $800 billion stimulus that went as far afield as clean energy and infrastructure spending.
President-elect Joe Biden oversaw that effort as vice president, and Neal sees potential to reprise something like it on a grander scale.
"I do think with a President Biden that stimulus linked to climate change and linked to infrastructure go hand in hand," Neal said in an interview. "Why don't we wrap them into one big bill, and given the Fed's determination to keep interest rates low, we can do some borrowing."
Based on proposals House Democrats have put forth since this summer, the cost could go north of $4 trillion over a decade. That includes a $2.4 trillion coronavirus aid package and a $1.5 trillion infrastructure and climate measure.
Neal said the size and scope could be influenced by whatever Congress and the outgoing Trump administration can get done in the lame-duck session on COVID-19 relief.
Neal allows that "I think there are some revenue offsets we could use" if lawmakers get cold feet about racking up all that debt. But he points to all the unpaid-for tax cuts enacted under GOP administrations going back to President Ronald Reagan in 1981 as a contrast to the investments he thinks are necessary.
"I think that the federal government is positioned to do the necessary obligation we have, and that is to build infrastructure," Neal said. "I think Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson had the same argument. It's not like it just burst on the scene."
Getting such an expansive bill through the Senate would be difficult. Republicans are favored to control the chamber next year, though they still need to win at least one of the two Georgia Senate runoffs on Jan. 5. Even if Democrats retake control with a 50-50 split and a tiebreaking Vice President Kamala Harris, it's not clear there would be enough support.
But Neal said his energy tax package, for example, is designed to attract bipartisan backing by framing efforts to curb greenhouse gases as tax cuts to boost a lackluster economy. Instead of a carbon tax or big-spending Green New Deal proposals, for instance, Neal included a roughly $150 billion package of clean energy tax incentives in the infrastructure bill the House passed July 1.