Home Panel Advances Invoice to Examine Reparations in Historic Vote

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A House committee voted Wednesday to recommend, for the first time, the creation of a commission to consider granting redress to black Americans for slavery in the United States and a “national apology” for centuries of discrimination.

The House Justice Committee vote was a major milestone for advocates of reparations who have worked for decades to build general support for eradicating the lingering effects of slavery. The panel’s Democrats pushed legislation to establish the Republican Objections Commission (25-17).

The bill, dubbed HR 40 after the unfulfilled civil war promise to give former slaves “40 acres and a mule,” still faces great opportunities to become law. With opposition from some Democrats and United Republicans arguing that black Americans don’t need a government handout for longstanding crimes, none of the Houses of Congress has committed to a floor vote.

But as the country re-grapples with systemic racism exposed by the coronavirus pandemic and the deaths of George Floyd and other black men in confrontations with police, the measure has garnered support from the country’s most powerful Democrats, including President Biden , Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader. According to surveys, public support is also growing, although it is still far from widespread.

“We ask people to understand the pain, violence, brutality and loquacity of what we’ve been through,” Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee said during a committee debate late Wednesday. “And of course we ask for harmony, reconciliation and a reason to come together as Americans.”

The renewed interest in reparations comes from the fact that Mr Biden has put the fight against racial inequalities at the center of his domestic political agenda, proposing billions in investments in black farmers, business owners, neighborhoods, students and the poor. The White House has stated that Mr. Biden’s $ 4 trillion agenda is in part “to fight systemic racism and rebuild our economy and social safety net so everyone in America can reach their full potential.” can “.

The issue of reparation for former slaves and their descendants has vexed and divided policymakers for generations. She was embroiled in larger questions about the legacy of racism in America and white opposition to the crippling effects of the slave economy. It also poses tricky practical questions such as who should benefit from it, what reparations might look like, and how to pay for them.

William T. Sherman, the General of the Union, made the first widespread attempt in 1865 with a special battlefield order to seize 400,000 acres of coastal land and give it to ex-slaves in parcels. But after President Abraham Lincoln died later that year, his successor Andrew Johnson quickly overturned it. No subsequent plan has come close to coming into effect.

Black officials in Congress began re-igniting the subject three decades ago when they first proposed a commission to investigate it. The bill before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday would set up a panel to examine the effects of slavery and decades of economic and social discrimination, often with government involvement, and suggest possible ways to fill the yawning gap in prosperity and opportunity between blacks and the Black to close white Americans. It would also consider a “national apology” for the harm caused by slavery.

Proponents of federal government reparations differ in exactly what form they should take. Some prefer direct cash payments of varying sizes, while others prefer interest-free loans for potential black homeowners and free tuition.

Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, this year pledged $ 10 million in redline or other housing discrimination to black residents who can demonstrate that they or their ancestors were the victims of redlining or other housing discrimination. But any national program would be much larger, and the cost would likely be between billions and trillions of dollars.

Although his government does not use the reparations label, Mr Biden has included versions of many of these proposals in his far-reaching attempts to fight the coronavirus pandemic and get the stuttering American economy going again.

For example, Mr Biden’s coronavirus stimulus bill, the American Rescue Plan, invested tens of billions of dollars in food aid programs, direct payments to Americans, and monthly child support – programs that were race regardless but would provide significant help to Black Americans. It also provided US $ 5 billion in aid and debt relief to help black farmers ease years of discriminatory farm subsidy and lending policies.

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Updated

April 14, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

“We understand that we don’t need a study right now to take action against systemic racism,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, in February. “So in the meantime he wants to act within his own government.”

Mr Biden’s job and infrastructure proposals, now high on the Congressional agenda, would go further, earmarking hundreds of billions of dollars for black, brown and other “underserved communities” for vocational training, school investments, mortgage support, business loans and replacements Lead pipes and cleaning of toxic waste. A proposed provision allows $ 20 billion to reconnect neighborhoods, many of which are historically black and which have been destroyed by highways. Another would allocate $ 20 billion to improve research capacities at historically black colleges and universities.

Republicans have dismissed many of the programs as unnecessary, unpopular, or too expensive and appear to be lining up to directly oppose the plans in Congress unless Democrats agree to cut them significantly.

Even if they do become law, academics who have dominated the reparation debate insist that Mr. Biden’s plans are not a substitute. William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public order at Duke University who has written a book on reparations, said such proposals are “a kind of shadow box on the matter.”

“When it comes to the full impact on black wealth, the destruction of entire businesses or neighborhoods, or the deprivation and loss of land, we are talking about numbers that are way beyond the reach of relatively small programmatic initiatives.” Mr. Darity said.

Mr. Darity’s vision of reparations focuses primarily on closing the wealth gap between African Americans and whites. He estimates that government funding of $ 10 trillion or more will be needed, a huge number that alienates lawmakers on both parties.

Roy L. Brooks, a law professor at the University of San Diego who has also written on the subject, argued that the purpose of reparations should not be viewed as primarily monetary, nor as something that could be dealt with in normal policy making.

“You are missing out on an opportunity to really bring the American people closer to the enormity of the atrocities that African Americans witnessed for 250 years of slavery and then Jim Crow for another 100 years,” he said.

Opponents argue that the injustice of slavery is simply too far past and too diffuse to be practically addressed now. You wonder why taxpayers, many of whom came to the US long after slavery ended, should pay a potentially hefty bill for payments to black Americans – and whether such payments would be beneficial at all.

“Reparation is divisive. It speaks to the fact that we are an unhappy, hopeless race that has never done anything but wait for white people to show up and help us – and it’s a lie, ”said Republican Representative Burgess Owens of Utah and descendants of slaves during the debate on Wednesday. “It’s demeaning to my parents’ generation.”

Mr Owens has compared the idea of ​​reparation to “redistributing wealth or socialism,” arguing that black Americans need the government to get out of the way if they are trying to rise up like generations before them.

Some Democrats share these views; others are skeptical about passing a bill that they fear Republicans would weaponize against by portraying it as a radical effort to use the government to push through a politically correct agenda.