THE House Judiciary Committee has backed a slavery reparations commission that would award trillions of dollars to Black Americans.
The committee voted 25 to 17 on Wednesday to advance a bill that would create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans who are descendants of slaves.
"No such bill has ever come this far during Congressional history of the United States," said Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, one of the sponsors of the bill.
The bill was originally introduced in the House in 1989 but never made it to committee vote.
If the bill is passed, it would create a 13-person commission tasked to "study the effects of slavery and racial discrimination, hold hearings and recommend 'appropriate remedies' to Congress."
Jackson Lee said the remedies is up for debate, saying the committee would offer Congress a number of proposals that would help ended economic, health and educational racial disparities.
President Biden has also supported a study for reparations and has showed interest in potential legislation proposed by the commission.
Republicans, however, are not on board, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea," McConnell said in 2019.
Although the Committee vote is historic, prospects for the final passage look dim in a closely divided Congress.
The House bill has no Republican support among the bill's 176 co-sponsors. All Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously against it.
It needs 60 votes to pass the evenly-divided Senate to overcome a filibuster.
"I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission," said Jackson Lee.
The commission would examine slavery and discrimination in the United States from 1619 to present day. Among the findings from the commission would include how the government would offer a formal apology.
The bill, referred to as HR 40, was introduced by Representative John Conyers in 1989. The number references the supposed 40 acres of land the government promised to newly freed slaves after the Civil War.
"This legislation is long overdue," said House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler.
"H.R. 40 is intended to begin 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."
Ranking Republican on the committee Jim Jordan argued the making of the commission would lead to an inevitable conclusion for reparations.
"Spend $20 million for a commission that’s already decided to take money from people who were never involved in the evil of slavery and give it to people who were never subject to the evil of slavery," Jordan said. "That’s what Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are doing."
Republican Burgess Owens, a Black representative from Utah, said he grew up in the South, where "we believe in commanding respect, not digging or asking for it."
"Forty years later, we’re now electing a president of the United States, a black man," he went on. "Vice president of the United States, a black woman. And we say there’s no progress?"
"Those who say there’s no progress are those who do not want progress."
Democratic Representative David Cicilline argued against this line of thinking, saying there are and were wrongs after slavery that are a direct result of the slavery that came before it.
"This notion of, like, I wasn’t a slave owner. I’ve got nothing to do with it misses the point," he said in reference to redlining and the government refusing loans to aspiring Black homeowners.
"It’s about our country’s responsibility, to remedy this wrong and to respond to it in a thoughtful way," he added. "And this commission is our opportunity to do that."
His point was echoed by New York freshman Representative Jamaal Bowman, who cited racial wealth gaps and Covid-19 as examples of racial disparities.
"Understanding that the compounding nature of racism has created a dynamic where Black people today must not only grapple with living in a country built on our sustained oppression, but also observe the modern manifestations in our daily lives," he said.
More to follow…
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