PITTSFIELD -- In his first major speech before the Berkshire business community since he began representing the county at the beginning of January, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal on Tuesday said the political polarization in Washington regarding the raising of the debt limit needs to end.
"It needs to stop being a politically charged game," the Springfield Democrat said at a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce function at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. "It’s a lousy way to run the government."
Neal, who has been a member of Congress for 25 years, was elected to represent the Berkshires in November, in the first election since the county became part of his territory after legislative districts were redrawn following the 2010 federal census.
On Tuesday, Neal said he has noticed "some thawing" in Washington during the "last two or three weeks" in the political polarization surrounding the economy. But he said the country has to continue to address the "continuing resolution" of how to fund the government, and prevent sequestration cuts that would result in across the board cuts to defense industries like General Dynamics.
"The debt limit is not about new spending," he said. "It’s about paying your bills that have been previously approved. Š I don’t know how any member of Congress that had voted for the war in Iraq can now not vote to raise the debt ceiling. That to me is basic arithmetic."
Neal said that he voted in favor of raising the debt ceiling.
"I thought it was a responsible position to take," he said, "and I continue to believe that we need to get through that thicket to make decisions."
Neal also touched on a variety of other economic-related issues during his remarks. He advocated for energy independence, saying that it would help domestic manufacturing, and called for extensive tax code reform.
"Simplifying the tax code is a must," Neal said. "We spend $160 billion a year on tax compliance. This is not a productive resource for American companies. Those are dollars that would be better spent on research and development."
He also said the country needs to pass a "big" transportation bill.
"It’s been seven years since we’ve done one," he said. "You can see what happens."
Locally, he praised Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to spend $100 million to renovate the Housatonic Railroad’s tracks to provide passenger service between Pittsfield and Danbury, Conn. With rail improvements being down north and south between Massachusetts and Connecticut, Neal said "there’s no reason we can’t do it east to west" across Massachusetts.
"Improving rail from Boston to Worcester to Springfield to Pittsfield is a good idea," he said.
Neal said he was in favor of continuing the revitalization of North Street in Pittsfield as far as Berkshire Medical Center.
"I want to finish North Street," he said. "Extending it to Berkshire Medical Center is very important."
Finally, Neal said he was in favor of having the federal government restore "earmarks" noting that the majority of the requests Congress receives come from local governments, hospitals and educational institutions.
He blamed the elimination of earmarks on flawed reasoning.
"One bad bridge in Alaska drove that argument," Neal said.