Reparations Advocate Seeks House Vote on Commission by Midyear

Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee said she’s pushing for the House to vote on a bill to study reparations for slavery by mid-year.

The bill to establish a reparations study commission, if adopted, “would set America on a new tone, a new direction of full equality for the descendants of enslaved Africans,” Jackson Lee, of Texas, said in an interview for Bloomberg Quicktake. .

The legislation sponsored by Jackson Lee, H.R. 40, was advanced by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday on a 25-17 party-line vote, with all Republicans opposed. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has not yet scheduled a vote but previously pledged the bill would get to the floor if it was approved by the Judiciary panel.

It would establish a 13-member commission to examine the role of federal and state governments in slavery and discrimination in the U.S. from 1619 to the present. The commission would recommend appropriate remedies to Congress.

President Joe Biden has voiced support for studying the idea of reparations without endorsing any specific legislation on the issue. Jackson Lee was one of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who met with Biden this week. She said the reparations bill came up and Biden was “receptive” to the conversation.

Critics have raised questions over who would be responsible for paying any financial reparations to descendants of slaves., and how much they would cost. But remedies from the commission could come in a variety of forms. Jackson Lee said she expects recommendations to address racial disparities in housing, access to credit, education and health care.

“Racism raises its ugly head constantly,” Jackson Lee said. “Of course we have seen it raise its head with unfortunate penetration over the last couple of years. That has shown itself in the issues of police brutality, shown itself in stark disparities in education and health care.”

The bill would need the support of nearly all House Democrats to pass if all Republicans in the chamber vote against it. The bill would then face even tougher odds in Senate, where the party division is 50-50 and chamber rules require 60 votes to take up most legislation. Republicans generally have opposed the idea of paying reparations to descendants of slaves.

Jackson Lee said she has begun to reach out to both Republicans and Democrats to garner enough votes to pass the bill.

Congressional Democratic leaders and the White House are in discussions about the bill and how to move forward on it, according to a Democratic leadership aide.

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