This Massachusetts primary is everything wrong with the Democratic Party
The future of health-care reform rides on kicking Richard Neal to the curb
Up in western Massachusetts this week, a Democratic congressional primary may well determine whether or not the country gets any kind of health-care reform under a Biden administration. Alex Morse, the young mayor of Holyoke, is challenging Rep. Richard Neal for the 1st district seat.
Neal is the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and has used that power over the last two years to not investigate President Trump's unprecedented corruption, and to bottle up legislation taking on medical extortion rackets. To protect Neal, the party establishment attacked Morse with a Republican-style dirty tricks campaign. When that didn't work, big money interests started dumping trainloads of cash into the race to save him.
This is everything wrong with the Democratic Party.
Richie Neal may well be the worst Democrat in the House, and that is saying a lot. (Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey maybe has worse politics, but he also has little power.) Let me start with oversight: During the 2018 midterm campaign, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi promised one of the first things a House Democratic majority would do is demand Trump's tax returns. That task would be up to the Ways and Means chair, and as Eleanor Eagan and Jeff Hauser write at The American Prospect, after they won control of the House, Neal dragged his feet for months even asking for the returns, months more issuing a subpoena, and months more before actually filing a lawsuit to get them.
Neal clearly didn't want to do it, and more importantly, he wanted (on behalf of his insurance industry donors) Trump to sign a bill allowing 401(k) fund managers to rip off their clients, which indeed passed. By that time, Neal had dithered and procrastinated so long that when the case got to the Supreme Court, they simply kicked it back to a lower court to run out the clock before the election (which is probably what Neal hoped would happen). Now Pelosi is nonsensically promising that Neal will get Trump's tax returns after Biden is elected president — that is, when it would be basically meaningless.
But sandbagging oversight to sell out retirees is not even close to the worst thing Neal has done policy-wise over the last two years. He also singlehandedly stymied a bill to stop surprise billing — the legal extortion racket where medical provider gangsters stick up insured people for huge sums when their treatment is out of their insurance network. Private equity goons have been buying up physician groups in strategic sectors where people have no choice but to take out-of-network care to be able to extort as many people as possible. This practice is so incredibly unpopular that even Republicans, including Trump, are nominally against it. But Neal doesn't care if his constituents or the rest of the American people are bankrupted, or if being so corrupt harms the Democratic Party as a whole by allowing the GOP to pose as the real opponent of surprise bills. He's just a rusty machine where big money interests — in this case Blackstone Group — pop a couple quarters in his back, and he creaks into action to do whatever they want.
What's more, Pelosi let him do it. She almost certainly could have levered the bill out of committee, but instead she has endorsed Neal's re-election campaign, and even cut an ad full of outrageous lies praising him. She is plainly signaling that as long as Neal remains in place, there will be no serious health-care reform — if we can't even do a tiny and overwhelmingly popular fix of legal extortion, Biden's public option has no chance whatsoever.
That brings us to the frankly jaw-dropping dirty tricks campaign against Neal's challenger, Alex Morse. Early in August, the College Democrats chapter of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst leveled some troubling accusations against Morse, saying that he had some inappropriate relationships and communications with students there.
However, the details were extremely vague, and there were no actual accusers named. When reporters at The Intercept did some digging, they found a literal anti-Morse conspiracy from the chapter leadership and top figures in the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Two College Democrats had plotted for over a year to destroy Morse so that Neal would give one of them an internship. They tried honeypotting him over Tinder (Morse is gay), but when that didn't work, shopped around their faked up story anyway. The state Democratic Party's executive director Veronica Martinez, chair Gus Bickford, and party heavyweight Jim Roosevelt helped orchestrate the smear campaign, lied about having participated, and advised the would-be Nixon Plumbers to delete their communications with party grandees. (Neal insists he had no knowledge of the conspiracy.)
It almost worked, too. Morse was reportedly about to withdraw from the race before The Intercept's reporting came out. But now it is a real race, and the big money interests are spending like they are worried. Neal has already spent some $4.3 million on the race, and recently three different outside political groups — the American Hospital Association PAC, the Democratic Majority for Israel, and American Working Families — have dumped in an additional $1.5 million. As David Dayen and Alex Sammon write at The American Prospect, the latter two are very likely coordinating in violation of campaign finance law.
So here we have a bunch of amoral sharks who think nothing of inventing a frankly homophobic smear campaign simply to get an internship with a guy who does nothing but give in to Republicans and sell his own constituents down the river to Wall Street and Big Medical. The country is falling to pieces and all these cretins can think of is their own careers — if being in politics simply to serve as a cat's paw for the worst industries in the country even counts as such.
If Democrats are to repair the terrible damage Trump is doing to this country, people like Neal and those who surround him have to go.