African-American lawmakers blast budget plan as step back for civil rights

Black lawmakers on Monday said GOP-proposed budget cuts would move the country in the opposite direction of the civil rights movement.

The lawmakers, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, used the last day of Black History Month to argue the GOP-backed cuts would fall hardest on black Americans. 

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"It's really especially poignant that this year during Black History Month, the Republican leadership has proposed a budget for fiscal year 2011 that will fall most heavily, mind you, on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society: African Americans, Latinos, and poor, those who have been shut of the American dream," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who described the cuts as ill-timed and destructive. 

"At a time when we should be remembering and uplifting the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans, to the history, culture, civil rights and economy of America, we are literally during this month debating steps that will severely undercut and undermine that legacy," she said.

Lee also criticized Republicans for saying "so be it" when asked their reaction to the idea that cuts to government spending might hurt U.S. job growth. "So be it," she repeated. "That's not what the Civil Rights movement was about."

Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) also connected the spending cuts to civil rights, and said improving the GOP spending bill is imperative. "I do believe that if we focus on these continuing resolutions that we've been debating, we can have a much better future than the history has been for African Americans in this country," Clyburn said.

"This is not befitting of the final day of African American History [Month]," added Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of the spending cut plans.

H.R. 1 would cut more than $61 billion from current funding levels, but is not expected to move forward in the Democratic Senate. However, the House on Tuesday is expected to approve a two-week spending bill that cuts $4 billion from current spending levels. The $4 billion in spending reductions would include hundreds of millions of cuts in education, health, housing, energy and water programs.

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) made a point of saying that spending cuts could hurt all Americans, including African Americans, and said he would fight to maintain funding for certain programs. "We will fight to protect the Department of Education," he said as an example, adding that it "means something" to have that department.

Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), who led the debate, said the GOP cuts threaten to bring the U.S. back to a time when "America was not in her finest hour, a time when the poor, the rural and people of color were denied equal opportunities to education, healthcare, jobs with decent wages and protections, and the possibility of homeownership. We cannot and must not go back there."