late Adam Clayton Powell and Barbara Lee, who’s very proactive and forthright and has a vision not just for black people here but in the Caribbean and Africa.” Smith agrees, adding that the group has been the “conscience of Congress” and is still needed to fight legislation that would adversely impact minorities.
Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, points to Watt and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), CBC members he says have put in a tremendous number of man-hours behind the scenes to shape an extension of the Voting Rights Act. “Not everybody is a show horse. Just because you don’t see them in the headlines every day, don’t believe that somehow they’re not in there fighting the good fight and working hard every day.”
Hurricane Katrina infused the organization with a much-needed dose of energy. The group introduced its most comprehensive piece of legislation in some time: the Hurricane Katrina Recovery, Reclamation, Restoration, Reconstruction and Reunion Act of 2005. “The only comprehensive Katrina legislation was introduced by the CBC,” says Smith. “It’s not likely, given Republican control of Congress, that it will be passed as a package. But I suspect that pieces of it will.”
Watt adds, “there are other pieces of legislation where we’ve had impact but haven’t received as much attention,” such as the 2006 budget, in which the CBC was successful at lessening the severe cuts to Medicaid and student loan programs.
Like Smith, Maryland’s Republican lieutenant governor, Michael S. Steele, who will join the CBC if he wins his bid for the U.S. Senate, says the Caucus must become more vocal. “You’ve got the bully pulpit; use it. Galvanize your people back in the community. Rally support for your cause, not because it’s your cause, but the cause of the people who sent you there and the African American community,” says Steele.