WASHINGTON (NNPA) - A bi-annual report released last week by the Congressional Black Caucus may give a sneak peek at President Barack Obama's agenda for Black America.
"We have a very forward-thinking, progressive, bold agenda and that's what we're working on in terms of the Congressional Black Caucus agenda - but also the president's agenda - which 99 percent of the time is in sync," says CBC Chair Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in an interview with the NNPA News Service.
"So, I see us as being in partnership as we should be as members of Congress with the executive branch to try to make sure that we have an agenda that really speaks to – not only the Black community and communities of color - but to the whole country."
On an election-eve phone conference with Black leaders, then candidate Obama was emphatic in a promised to never forget the disparities in Black America. But, since in the White House he has not specifically outlined an agenda for how these racial disparities would be addressed.
Lee reminds that President Obama was a member of the CBC before becoming president and that the CBC's 17 subcommittee chairs and four committee chairs are at the White House on a regular basis, working in tandem with the President on various issues, including those of racial and social injustice.
"And so members are at the White House consistently and constantly on the issues that revolve around their committee, which also reflect the perspective of the Congressional Black Caucus," she says.
The bi-annual report, "Opportunities for All - Pathways Out of Poverty", states that its purpose is to push "for equal empowerment, including equal access to quality education, public facilities and infrastructure, credit and public contracts, jobs and job training, affordable housing, and equal pay for equal work. To supplement the priorities set forth by President Barack Obama and Congressional Leadership, members of the CBC have introduced the following legislation to address these needs."
A letter from Lee, introducing the report, states, "As our nation's economic uncertainty continues, millions of Americans already struggling to overcome systemic poverty are encountering greater hardships. Millions more are grasping to maintain their quality of life during this turmoil. This crisis is particularly acute among African-Americans. More than 24 percent of African Americans live below the poverty line and African-Americans are 55 percent more likely to be unemployed than other Americans."
The report gives an account of the CBC's first six months under the Obama Administration from January through June. It also gives a list of specific bills to watch for the remainder of the 111th Congress – one bill from each member of the 42-member CBC.
An excerpt of the listed bills are below, along with descriptions obtained by NNPA from http://Thomas.loc.gov, a search engine for Congressional Legislation:
• H.R. 676, the United States National Health Care Act, introduced by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.): "To provide for comprehensive health insurance coverage for all United States residents, improved health care delivery, and for other purposes." (D-Mich.);
• H. R. 1296, Access for All America Act, introduced by Rep. James Clyburn, also "To achieve access to comprehensive primary health care services for all Americans and to reform the organization of primary care delivery through an expansion of the Community Health Center and National Health Service Corps programs."
• H.R. 795, the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act, introduced by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.): "To establish the Social Work Reinvestment Commission to advise Congress and the Secretary of Health and Human Services on policy issues associated with the profession of social work and to authorize the Secretary to make grants to support recruitment, retention, research, and reinvestment in the profession."
• H.R. 1479 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) Modernization Act of 2009 introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas): In part, "To enhance the availability of capital, credit, and other banking and financial services for all citizens and communities …"
• H.R. 2299 Minority Business Enhancement Act of 2009, introduced by Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), "To amend the Small Business Act to enhance services to small business concerns that are disadvantaged."
• H.R. 1064/S. 435 the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education (PROMISE) Act, introduced by Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.): "To provide for evidence-based and promising practices related to juvenile delinquency and criminal street gang activity prevention and intervention to help build individual, family, and community strength and resiliency to ensure that youth lead productive, safe, healthy, gang-free, and law-abiding lives."
• H.R. 1728 Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act, introduced by Rep. Melvin L. Watt (N.C.): "To amend the Truth in Lending Act to reform consumer mortgage practices and provide accountability for such practices, to provide certain minimum standards for consumer mortgage loans."
• H.R. 2451 Student Bill of Rights introduced by Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.): "To provide for adequate and equitable educational opportunities for students in State public school systems."
• H.R. 265 Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009, introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas)
• H.R. 1741 Witness Security and Protection Grant Program Act of 2009, introduced by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.): "To require the Attorney General to make competitive grants to eligible State, tribal, and local prosecutors to establish and maintain certain protection and witness assistance programs."
• H.R. 1551 the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.): "To provide for the reduction of adolescent pregnancy, HIV rates, and other sexually transmitted diseases, and for other purposes."
• H.R. 1677 the Empowerment Zone, Renewal Community and Enterprise Community Enhancement Act of 2009, introduced by Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) "To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend and expand the benefits for businesses operating in empowerment zones, enterprise communities, or renewal communities."
• H.R. 476 Housing Fairness Act of 2009 introduced by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) "To authorize funds to prevent housing discrimination through the use of nationwide testing, to increase funds for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program."
• H.R. 1270 the Affordable Housing and Community Development Act of 2009 introduced by Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.): "To reauthorize community development block grants."
• H.R. 2570 Working for Adequate Gains for Employment in Services (WAGES) Act, introduced by Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.): "To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to establish a base minimum wage for tipped employees."
• H.R. 2108 Predatory Lending Practice Reduction Act of 2009, introduced by Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio): "H.R.2108
Title: To protect home buyers from predatory lending practices."
Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus had said from the beginning of the Obama Administration that they expected his presidency would bolster their power in Congress along with other Democrats.
Although it is not clear whether the president will support all of the above legislation, Lee says it is good for CBC constituents to know that they have advocates who frequently communicate with the President, all of whom know the conditions in Black America.
Lee's letter suggests that inroads on behalf of justice and equality for Black people will be of historical proportions:
"The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), in its continued role as the 'Conscience of Congress', has a moral obligation to address inequality and injustice as never before in history," she writes. "We are aggressively advancing the role of government to empower and protect American families by collectively pursuing a legislative agenda that addresses the priorities of our constituents. We believe that we have a responsibility and obligation to eradicate poverty by utilizing the full constitutional power, statutory authority, and resources of our government to provide opportunities for all and to develop pathways out of poverty. Some of these opportunities and pathways include economic opportunities, job training, livable wages, education, mental health services, affordable housing, health care, child nutrition and a responsible foreign policy."