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The Congressional Black Caucus Agenda For The 107th Congress

Yesterday at the Frederick Douglass Museum and Hall of Fame for Caring Americans, in Washington D.C., the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) publicly released its agenda for this year. The principles and issues to be championed by Black America's national lawmakers were set forth in the agenda's preamble: "It is the belief of the Congressional Black Caucus that if we are to truly realize this dream of an all-inclusive America, we must begin in this 107th Congress by: 1) Making Every Vote Count; 2) Securing Our Children's Future; 3) Creating Wealth and Fairness in Our Communities; and 4) Ensuring a Healthy Community."

The four areas of concern, as set forth by the CBC represent the byproduct of intense discussions and debates among the 37-member body, a review of the issues of concern expressed by the members' constituents, as well as an informal consensus of key issues and priorities expressed by Black opinion leaders and grass root organizations.

Each of the four areas, though not an exhaustive list of the CBC's priorities, represents the core values of the Caucus. Here is a look at the four areas in more detail:

"Making Every Vote Count" In no uncertain terms, the CBC has made election reform its number one legislative priority. In the aftermath of the Presidential election and the controversy in Florida, the Black Caucus feels a special need to demonstrate that it is responsive to the concerns of Black voters across the country. While recognizing the success of the massive Black voter turn out in the 2000 election, the CBC believes that those efforts may have actually been "undercut by allegations of voter intimidation, inaccurate voter registration lists, flawed ballot designs, and antiquated voting machinery". The CBC intends to press Congress this session and beyond, with new laws. The CBC agenda provides the parameters for such legislation, " Any such legislation should address ballot design, modern voting machines, an accurate vote-counting mechanism that allows for recounts, the restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders, assistance for bilingual and disabled persons who vote, and ensure the most accurate voter registration rolls on election day so that everyone who is eligible to vote can vote, and have that vote counted."

"Securing Our Children's Future" This area of the CBC's agenda is made up of five components: Education Reform, Higher Education, Parental and Community Involvement, Healthy Children, Juvenile Justice. The CBC is looking to take a holistic approach in this area by linking education improvements and expanded support for Head Start and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with an expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIPs) and an end to racial disparities in drug sentencing.

"Creating Wealth And Fairness In Our Communities" The CBC focus in this priority has five subsections: 1) New Markets and Small and minority Business Development 2) Trade and Global Economic Empowerment 3) Training Workers for the New Economy 4) Increasing Affordable Housing Opportunities 5) Equal Justice. Here, the Caucus intends to craft an integrated wealth creation formula that connects inner-city economic development with home ownership, job training and ending the digital divide. Interestingly, the Caucus intends to raise the profile of the impact that immigration is having on the Black economy. The agenda reveals that the Caucus has the H-1B visa program, which looks to address the high-tech industry's "labor shortage" through increased integration, in its crosshairs. The agenda reads, " The H-1B training grants and other high-tech training grants should be targeted to train women, youth, minorities, military veterans and people with disabilities who are now under-represented in the high-tech industry on both the hiring and retention of those persons in the previously mentioned groups who already have high-tech skills." The CBC also plans to give attention to the relationship between Black-owned businesses in the US and their positioning juxtaposed to international markets, including those in Africa. " The CBC will work to ensure that the benefits of the dynamic global marketplace extend to minority businesses, and Africa and developing countries."

"Ensuring A Healthy Community" Here, the Black Caucus outlines its vision for a healthy Black community. The CBC intends to focus on 1) eliminating health disparities 2) HIV/AIDS initiatives 3) Patient's Bill Of Rights 4) Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit 5) Support for Health Providers in Underserved Communities. In one of the frequently understated issues in the Black community, where the legacy of slavery is most visible, the CBC intends to be responsive. Thee CBC's attention to the AIDS epidemic includes a focus on the crisis in Africa, " the CBC recognizes the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on the global workforce, specifically Africa, and on the allocation of resources of developing countries. Therefore, the CBC will continue its efforts to support a comprehensive global policy aimed at ending the scourge of HIV/AIDS around the globe." One of the most interesting and unique aspects of the CBC's agenda this year is that it includes an effort to advance public and private partnerships within and outside the Black community. The CBC agenda states, " We will also partner with traditional and non-traditional allies including business and labor leaders, as well as civil rights and religious associations, to bring about a just resolve to the challenges facing America and the world."

Not wasting anytime on that front, the CBC has already held "unity" meetings with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus - discussing ways in which the Black and Hispanic groups can work together, and possibly vote together, on issues of agreement. In addition, the Black Caucus will be strengthening its linkages with members of the Democratic Party establishment. A meeting has already been planned with top Senate Democrats (See press release below).

Now that they have laid out an agenda, it will be interesting to see how Black America and the US Congress respond.

CBC to Meet with Democratic Senators

(Washington, DC) -- Thursday, Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are scheduled to meet with Democratic Senators. The meeting, which will be hosted by the Senate Steering and Coordination Committee will provide a forum for Members of the CBC to share their legislative priorities for the 107th Congress and to discuss issues of concern to the African American community.

"This Congressional session the Caucus will pursue an empowerment issues agenda including voting rights, education reform, access to capital, early health care, expanding the U.S. relationship with Africa and the Caribbean and access to technology," said Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Chair. "And it is important that we partner with both traditional and non-traditional allies to achieve these objectives."

The meeting will be led by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman, Democratic Steering & Coordination Committee followed by an opening statement from Chairwoman Johnson and continuing with open discussion. Issues likely to be discussed include education, election reform, hate crimes legislation, charitable choice, judicial nominations, HIV/AIDS, and Africa.

Cedric Muhammad

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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