(WWLP) – What happens here in western Massachusetts impacts decision making in Washington, DC, and what happens in the nation’s capital impacts us here in western Massachusetts. That is why dozens of local business leaders, as part of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, went to Washington this week. Every other year, Congressman Richard Neal (D-Springfield) hosts a Washington Symposium for the SRC. On Thursday, 22News was with the chamber as the day began on the floor of the House of Representatives. Congressman Neal gave a history lesson of the building and American politics and then opened the floor to questions. He was asked about his voting history, how he balances representing his constituents’ interests and his wisdom in Congress, and what he thinks about global issues.
“While the Massachusetts economy is performing better than much of the rest of America’s economic situation that nonetheless we can do better. And I also think there is a legitimate argument between eastern and western Massachusetts,” said Congressman Neal.
After the tour of the Capitol building, the chamber had breakfast in the Library of Congress Members’ Room as they listened to U.S. Congressman John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia and leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Massachusetts U.S. Congressman Mike Capuano (D-Somerville) discussed how eastern and western parts of the state are different, but need to unite for the betterment of the Commonwealth in the long-term. One solution, he said, was through an east-west rail in the future.
Later, everything moved back to the Capitol, in a private room off the Visitors’ Center. There, we heard from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California), who talked about being the first woman in U.S. history to be Speaker of the House. She repeated, “Build, Build, Build,” stressing the importance of infrastructure improvement and creating jobs in the country. With the presidential election just over a month away, Pelosi said, “Elections are about two things. They’re about who you elect. Who takes the seat, but it’s also about the message that the people give the people that they elect. This is what is important to me.”
In the afternoon, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) spoke, showing how Democrats and Republicans do work together, despite many recent stalemates in Congress. Several speakers, including Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy, III (D-Brookline), said they actually work together more than voters may think.
Among other speakers, such as pollsters and pundits, were Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey. Senator Warren focused on three points: holding accreditors for for-profit colleges accountable, funding for combating the opioid epidemic, and infrastructure projects. “There are parts of Massachusetts that have just been cut off and without that basic infrastructure, we strand our own people in economic islands,” Warren said.
Senator Markey had similar points, toting his years of work in expanding broadband services to remote parts of the Commonwealth. He said he and Senator Warren are pushing for a funding bill that would include more than $1 billion for treatment beds, education and prevention in the opioid epidemic. According to Senator Markey, Republicans refuse to pass the bill without making cuts elsewhere. Markey added, “My hope is that we will be able to fund the treatment, the beds for opioid addiction. That’s the only way we’re going to save lives, and the only way we’re going to do it successfully is if Democrats work together with Republicans.”
Chamber members were encouraged to ask questions to each of the speakers, and they did. They discussed at length the presidential election and what that could mean for the way Washington operates in the future, as well as what it would mean for business leaders in our region. Jeff Trapani of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce legislative steering committee.