Eye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending

Greg Nash

Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is in the running to be the next House Appropriations Committee chair, called on Monday for a new panel to oversee how government spending affects historically marginalized communities.

“The Appropriations Committee must play a leading role in addressing federal budget inequities,” she wrote in a Dear Colleague letter Monday, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill.

“That is why I am proposing the creation of a new House Appropriations Committee Advisory Panel on Equity and Justice. This panel would help the Committee refocus federal spending decisions on the issues and demands of equity, justice, and diversity,” she added. 

Wasserman Schultz is among several high profile appropriators vying for the Appropriations gavel, which current Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) will give up when she retires at the end of the year.

A spokesperson for Lowey said she was “proud of how this year’s appropriations bills reflect the House Democratic Caucus’ commitment to racial justice,” and reiterated a commitment to let the next Congress select the next chair.

But the proposal did get an endorsement from a powerful figure, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.)

“This plan presents an opportunity to begin to repair faults that have perpetuated disparities within this country for far too long,” Clyburn said of the proposal.

Specifically, he praised her inclusion of the 10-20-30 formula Clyburn has floated for addressing issues of inequality. That plan calls for at least 10 percent of rural development investments to go toward counties where 20 percent or more of the population has lived in poverty for 30 years.

Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, faces tough competition for the gavel.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, which is by far the largest of the 12 annual spending bills, save Defense. She is close with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and is one of the most senior members of the committee.

“Chairwoman DeLauro is a fighter for racial and economic justice,” a DeLauro spokesperson said, pointing to the Labor bill. 

“She’s committed to expanding upon that critical work,” they added.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who heads up the energy and water subcommittee, is the most senior member of the Democratic appropriators, and is also lobbying for the job.

Wasserman Schultz’s proposal comes amid widespread social unrest focusing on racism and police brutality, which has led to calls for stronger investments in communities of color, specifically in terms of redirecting police funding toward community programs.

African Americans are among the most important constituencies in the Democratic Party, and played a key role in helping former Vice President Joe Biden win the Democratic primary this year. 

The subject of race continued to be central to the presidential campaign, with Biden under pressure to select a woman of color as his running mate. He already vowed to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

But beyond representation, much attention has been given to how budgets and spending priorities can leave communities of color behind. 

Wasserman Schultz’s plan would empower the advisory panel, with members appointed by the committee chair, to review the enacted spending bills and report to the committee where adjustments could be made “in order to increase equity and justice.” 

Tags Debbie Wasserman Schultz Joe Biden Marcy Kaptur Nancy Pelosi Nita Lowey Rosa DeLauro

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