- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

Democratic leaders will face pressure from minority voters to pass legislation during the next two years on many issues that have stalled in Congress, particularly those designed to close racial disparities.

Voters will expect swift results from House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry Reid of Nevada on legislation to balance the budget, fix Social Security and the Medicare prescription-drug program and reform immigration.

But there are other, older issues that minorities and civil rights groups have fought for years to get passed with few results. A lack of progress on those issues could reflect poorly on Democrats in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election.

“The question people — African-Americans, Latinos, Asians — will be asking after two years will be what difference has been made by having Pelosi as the speaker and Reid as majority leader for minorities, and really all Americans will be asking that,” said a senior Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The top lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said two of the priorities are raising the minimum wage and extending a new version of the Ryan White Act, which provides funding for research and treatment for HIV/AIDS patients.

“That bill must be dealt with very quickly, and we are working to get it done this month,” said Hilary Shelton, NAACP-D.C. bureau director. “The problem is that while the bill did increase funding for rural and suburban communities, the formula hurt cities, and it isn’t like the problem with HIV in cities is any less.”

Mr. Shelton said laws setting a federal standard for appropriate use of force by police and punishments for racial profiling are also priorities, especially in light of a shooting of three unarmed men by New York police on Nov. 25. One of the men, Sean Bell, 23, died.

Universal health care, particularly for children “born and unborn” is also a top issue for the NAACP, as well as a measure to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.

“These are not new issues, and Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid have either authored or co-signed on many of these bills in the past. What we need is a strategy to organize the Congress towards passage,” Mr. Shelton said.

Mrs. Pelosi has said the Democratic-controlled Congress will increase the minimum wage and impose strict pay-as-you-go budget rules in the first 100 hours, and that ethics reform will be the first major bill negotiated.

Some individual Congressional Black Caucus members also are talking about the issues they think should be at the forefront.

“The unforgivable reality is that more Americans than ever find themselves in need of food, shelter, clothing and health care,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina Democrat, who represents the 15th-poorest congressional district in the country.

He said Congress should close the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole,” or gap in coverage, which occurs after the first $2,250 of coverage.

Mr. Butterfield said the farm bill also should be written, and not be delayed until 2008 or beyond, as some suggest. He said the nation must extend subsidy-support prices for American farmers facing a tough competition from foreign entities.

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