- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2019

House Democrats kicked off a national debate Wednesday over reparations for descendants of slaves, saying black people are still suffering the effects and the federal government must do more to equalize matters.

The House Judiciary Committee used Juneteenth, a traditional celebration of the end of slavery, to hold a hearing on options for compensating black Americans — with the first step being a bill forming a study of the ongoing impacts of slavery and making recommendations for how to repay the families of those who were enslaved.

“Slavery is the original sin. Slavery has never received an apology,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the Texas Democrat who is sponsoring the reparations-study legislation.

Her legislation is House Resolution 40 — a reference to the expectation of the slaves freed after the Civil War that they would get 40 acres of land and a mule, to put them on more equal footing with white people.

Reparations backers say racism and other legacies of slavery remain rampant.

Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat and a 2020 presidential hopeful, said persistent inequality is a cancer on society.

“I am brokenhearted and angry right now — decades of living in a community where you see how deeply unfair this nation is still to so many people,” Mr. Booker said.

Wednesday’s hearing was the first on reparations in a decade, and it comes at a time of renewed attention to the issue.

Some of Mr. Booker’s fellow Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Kamala D. Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have suggested they support some type of reparations but have not provided specific details or proposals on how the repayment would be funded or doled out.

Reparations could cost taxpayers between $6 trillion and $14 trillion, according to a 2015 study by Newsweek.

Rep. Mike Johnson, Louisiana Republican, said slavery was a “horrific injustice,” but called the idea of reparations likely unconstitutional.

The pro-reparations crowd in the committee room booed.

Democrats expect to push the bill through the committee and eventually to the floor of the House, where Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Wednesday he will schedule a vote. But that’s as far as it’s likely to go.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday ruled out any bill to advance reparations.

“We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark Civil Rights legislation, we have elected an African American president — I think we are always a work in progress in this country but no one currently alive is responsible for that,” the Kentucky Republican said.

He also doubted it would be possible to figure out who should be compensated.

Neither the lawmakers nor witnesses involved in Wednesday’s hearing tackled the tricky issues of who’d pay, and who’d be compensated. Nor did they get into how much it might cost.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland told lawmakers that before they speak about money, it’s important to educate people on what reparations might look like.

“We’re talking about funding initiatives, programs addressing issues such as mass incarceration that’s repairing something that can be traced to slavery,” he said. “Personally, I’m not looking for a check from the federal government.”

Julianne Malveaux, an economist, suggested funding historically black colleges and universities.

Other witnesses, though, like Coleman Hughes, a writer and philosophy student at Columbia University, said slavery isn’t to blame for current disparities between the races. He noted prison populations didn’t balloon until the 1980s and that black and white unemployment for youth had been nearly identical until the late 1950s.

“Blaming [slavery] for the entirety of the problems we see today facing black people is actually a way for not taking responsibility for policy decisions that were made just in the last 50 years,” he said.

The idea of reparations also doesn’t poll too well. A Fox News survey in April found 60% opposed reimbursing the decedents of slaves, while only 32% backed the idea.

Gabriella Muoz contributed to this report.

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