Black Caucus sets up own debt panel

The Congressional Black Caucus, not totally satisfied with recent commissions focused on reducing the national debt, has set up one of its own.

The newly formed commission had its first – and, at this time, only scheduled – meeting Friday, where it discussed how proposals from groups like the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission would have an impact on minority communities. 

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“A glaring omission from various debt reports is a thoughtful analysis of how their recommendations will affect the nation’s most economically vulnerable populations,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), the chairman of the caucus, said at Friday’s gathering. 

Stephanie Young, a spokeswoman for the caucus, said its commission would submit a report and recommendations to Congress and the Obama administration before the president releases his budget, which is scheduled to happen in mid-February. Young also indicated that the caucus did not reach out to either the White House or congressional leaders before forming its group. 

The caucus’ debt commission comes as officials in Washington are discussing a variety of deficit-reduction ideas. In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a five-year freeze of non-security, discretionary spending.

Groups of Republicans, meanwhile, have called for setting spending at 2006 or 2008 levels. And on the Senate side, Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have talked up legislation modeled after the recommendations from the president’s debt commission. 

On Friday, some panelists at the caucus's commission meeting, which included officials from the Urban Institute, the Aspen Institute and academics from Duke and Johns Hopkins – appeared skeptical of deficit-reduction plans that would roll back spending and investment aimed at creating jobs. 

“We know that the recession has had a disparate impact on people of color, African-Americans especially,” said Maya Rockeymoore, the director of Leadership for Healthy Communities. ”We have higher unemployment, we have higher rates of foreclosure, we have higher poverty levels.”

In her prepared remarks for Friday’s meeting, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) also called it regrettable that the current belt-tightening talk did not seem to apply to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan or to the compromise last year that extended the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and installed new estate tax provisions.  

Officials who have been pushing deficit reduction have said their proposals would include ideas that upset some people or groups. 

Warner, for instance, told a Virginia news outlet that part of the appeal of his proposal with Chambliss was that it was a plan “where everybody can say, 'I don't like a lot of it, but the sum of the good it does is worth the pain it will cost.'” 

With all that in mind, one member of Obama's deficit commission has applauded the caucus's move to add to that discussion. 

“The president’s fiscal commission established one very important principle: everything must be on the table when it comes to planning a prudent course for our nation’s economic future,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who ended up voting to not move the commission’s recommendations forward, said in a statement. “I commend the Congressional Black Caucus for working to lay before us another credible option to achieve our fiscal goals.”