- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Congressional Democrats are ending 2021 without delivering on a promised racial justice agenda but refuse to concede defeat, and instead told Black voters that they will keep trying next year.

Democratic lawmakers, who promised an overhaul of policing and voting laws that they said would benefit Black communities, also suffered a racial justice setback with the year-end demise of President Biden’s $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate bill.

The Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats touted the bill as the last chance this year to deliver at least some new benefits for minorities, including more funding for housing, health care and other social programs.

Rep. Joyce Beatty, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was left demanding the Senate cut short its year-end vacation to try to force through Democrats’ overhaul of the nation’s voting laws.

“Black communities across the nation stand to lose the most if the Senate does not do its job and pass voting rights legislation,” Mrs. Beatty, Ohio Democrat, said in a statement. “This must not be filibustered. Voting rights have been a bipartisan issue reauthorized by four republican administrations and it is time to send it to President Biden’s desk for reauthorization.”

Senate Democrats did not cut short the break.

The fight over voting rights has become a partisan showdown with Democrats pursuing a bill that would rewrite laws in GOP-run states and Republicans opposing it as a power grab at the ballot box.

Senate Democrats have virtually no chance of pushing the partisan voting bill through the 50-50 spit chamber, and it is doubtful they have the inclination or the votes to blow up the filibuster that has helped keep their agenda in check.

Liberal activists and think tanks didn’t pull punches about the Democrats’ unfinished work on racial justice issues.

“No progress at the federal level will mean a continued reversal,” said Rashawn Ray, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. “Clearly, Congress has failed Americans on police reform. Democrats will be overly blamed for it and, potentially, rightfully so. Voters put them in office to make changes on police reform.”

He said Democrats’ failure to pass Mr. Biden’s social welfare package alone was a step backward would for Black people with rents and housing prices rising this year.

Without additional rental assistance and grants to help first-time homeowners who are disproportionately minorities, Black families would be in worse shape than before, said Mr. Ray.

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The massive spending bill collapsed when Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, withdrew his support over concerns it was too expensive and would fuel more inflation. The bill couldn’t advance without all 50 Senate Democrats on board.

About three months earlier, Senate Democrats threw in the towel on a sweeping revamp of policing laws after negotiations with Republicans stalled. The talks had gone on for months but couldn’t resolve hot-button issues such as the Democrats’ proposal to strip police of qualified immunity, a legal precedent that protects public officials from liability for their actions in the line of duty.

Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat leading the negotiations, said it had become impossible to make progress with his Republican counterparts and it was time to “explore other options.”

Since then, no new options emerged.

The Republicans’ lead negotiator, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, said his Democratic colleagues “walked away from the table.”

Rep. Marilyn Strickland, Washington Democrat, pushed back against the idea that the year was a lost opportunity on the racial justice front. She pointed to the child tax credit in the American Rescue Plan that sent monthly payments of $300 per child to most parents.

The tax break added enough money to families’ pockets to lift an estimated 3 million children out of poverty and disproportionately benefit minorities, noted Ms. Strickland, who is a Black Korean American.

The direct payments to parents, however, expire at the end of the year. An extension of the tax credit was a key feature of Mr. Biden’s derailed $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate bill known as the Build Back Better Act.

Still, Ms. Strickland pointed to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure spending that Mr. Biden signed in November as something of a racial justice win. He noted that it included $15 billion to replace lead pipes, which disproportionately hurt minority children.

“I want to make sure that we’re not underselling the significance of all the things that have happened in this administration,” Ms. Strickland told The Washington Times. “If we really want to push things forward on racial and social justice issues, we’re going to have to elect more Democrats in the Senate and hold the House. That’s the reality.”

Other Democrats who champion a racial justice agenda, including far-left “Squad” member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, refused to take solace in the passage of infrastructure spending.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez joined five other House Democrats, all people of color, in voting against the infrastructure bill. They called it inadequate.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez told constituents during a video town hall meeting that $15 billion to replace lead pipes falls far short of the $60 billion experts say is needed. The federal government new must “choose some places to have the privilege to have their lead pipes replaced,” she said.

The setbacks to Democrats’ racial justice agenda did not all involve Senate Republicans.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, proposed a bill this year that would have created a commission to study reparations to the descendants of slaves. The bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, never brought it to the floor for a vote by the entire chamber. The vote would have put some vulnerable Democrats in a tough spot ahead of what is expected to be brutal midterm elections for the party in 2022.

Mrs. Lee blamed “scheduling issues,” though not enough moderate House Democrats have publicly supported the bill for it to pass.

At a recent press conference outside the Capitol, Mrs. Lee basked in the symbolism of Congress even discussing the possibility of paying reparations to Black Americans.

“You are standing in the shadow of the United States Capitol Building that was built by slaves. I can’t think of a more significant moment,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the last name of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

• Kery Murakami can be reached at kmurakami@washingtontimes.com.

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