A House committee this week will take an unprecedented vote to create a commission to study providing federal reparations to the descendants of black slaves.
House Democrats say they have the political momentum to advance H.R. 40, an act to create a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for black people.
“The historic markup of H.R. 40 is intended to continue a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, said.
The Judiciary Committee, run by Democrats, is expected to advance the legislation to the House floor in a vote on Wednesday.
While the reparations bill was first introduced more than three decades ago by the late Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, the measure gained traction in the last two years after Democrats regained control of Congress and a new racial justice movement spread across the nation.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, told CBS News last week, “The timing is great.”
Democrats believe they can leverage recent civil unrest related to police misconduct as well as opposition to new red-state voter laws and anger over wealth disparities to help push the bill into law.
“We are now, unfortunately, seemingly going back — massive voter oppression and suppression with legislation across America, the tragedies against black men as it relates to the encounters in law enforcement certainly needs to be repaired, and the disparities in wealth is very stark, even today,” Jackson Lee said. “The time for H.R. 40 is now.”
House Democratic leaders have not indicated when or if they’ll bring up the measure, but they will be under intense pressure to pass it now that the party controls Congress and the White House.
The bill has 175 Democratic co-sponsors in the House, representing the majority of the caucus. In addition to studying reparations, the measure would task a commission with studying the harms caused to black people by both slavery and subsequent racial discrimination.
Liberal groups say the bill is long overdue.
“During the 32 years in which the bill has languished in Congress, many years have been wasted, many lives lost, and untold sorrows of African descendants have continued and abounded,” Kamm Howard, co-chairman of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, told a House panel earlier this year. “America would, in fact, be greater today if it had acted correctly at any time in its past. Even still, the opportunity for true greatness can begin with the rightful action of this 117th Congress.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, said they back the legislation.
Scheduling it for a floor vote is another matter.
Pelosi, of California, and Schumer, of New York, control slim majorities that could make it difficult to pass the bill unless nearly every Democrat votes for it.
Republicans are likely to oppose it. Many have so far rejected the legislation.
“I can’t imagine a more divisive, polarizing, or unjust measure than one that would require those that never owned slaves to pay reparations to those who never were slaves,” Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, said at a February hearing on the proposal.
McClintock cited former President Barack Obama, who, in 2008, rejected reparations and said the nation should focus on education and jobs to improve equity. Obama, in February, said reparations are “justified” but were a “nonstarter” during his presidency.
It could be difficult now, even though the party controls both the House and the Senate.
Democrats are already struggling to pass major party priorities, including infrastructure, immigration reform, and gun-control legislation, thanks to objections from key party centrists.
A vote to endorse reparations for slavery could be politically risky for Democrats, particularly those from swing states and districts.
A June 2020 Reuters/Ipsos poll found only one in five people support “taxpayer money to pay damages to descendants of enslaved people in the United States.”
An estimated 40 million black people could be eligible for reparations at a cost of trillions of dollars in federal revenue.
Opponents say providing reparations would be difficult, costly, and divisive.
“If reparation is a fee to be paid that corrects the sins of slave owners by taking from a nonguilty party, it will only create division with the different races, which I feel will continue to tell us we are African American rather than just Americans,” former football player Herschel Walker testified earlier this year.
Biden backs the creation of a commission but has not specifically endorsed reparations.
“I think he wants to see the outcome of the study,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “And he supports the study of reparations and what the impact would be.”
Author : Susan Ferrechio
Source : Washington Examiner : House set to vote for slavery reparations commission