Washington Report

Updates from Capitol Hill

Black Lawmakers Lay Down the Gauntlet

CBClogolargerTen black lawmakers who sit on the House Financial Services Committee gave their Democratic colleagues and the Obama White House a taste of how the CBC can use leverage to make or break legislation this week. The group delayed and then boycotted votes taken Wednesday on the panel’s financial regulatory reform legislation in protest over the administration’s handling of the economy and its disproportionate impact on black communities.

In an interview with two Gannett newspapers the next day, Obama rejected the notion that he should focus more narrowly on the troubles blacks face.

“The most important thing I can do for the African American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again,” Obama said.

The amendments passed, but the outcome would have been very different if the ten had voted no with the panel’s Republicans. According to one member, who asked to not be identified, Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts had to coerce the support of three Blue Dog Democrats who normally would have voted no. One had to leave his sickbed, and the other two are vulnerable, which limits how often they’ll be willing to take future risks.

The CBC is well respected but easily taken for granted, noted Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland). Still, 40-plus votes wields a lot of power, he said, and the actions of the 10 black members sent a clear message that given their constituents’ dire economic straits, taking them for granted is no longer an option.

The caucus has formed a taskforce on black job creation. Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver of Missouri, who heads it, said they may convene a job summit next week and are working on legislation that black lawmakers want included in a House jobs bill under development.

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