Black, Hispanic Caucus Members Gain Clout

Gary Fields, Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2010

The black and Hispanic caucuses emerged from this month’s elections as among the largest blocs in the House, and their members said they planned to push hard for liberal priorities such as government spending to create jobs.

Members of the two caucuses will hold nearly a third of the Democratic seats in the next Congress–61 of the party’s 190 seats–with the outcome of several additional House races still up in the air.

While centrist Democrats bore the brunt of the midterm election losses, members of the black and Hispanic caucuses, all Democrats and most of them liberal, won 56 of 60 re-election bids. They will gain seniority as the minority-party members on congressional committees and will carry a louder voice among the Democratic House contingent.

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Caucus members acknowledge that as members of the minority party in the House, they aren’t likely to be setting the agenda.

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Members of the caucuses said, for instance, they might seek to serve as a barrier if Republicans attempt to roll back health care and banking regulations.

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Black caucus member Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D., Ill.) plans to introduce legislation on the topic early in the next Congress. “We need legislation that is comparable to the Works Progress Administration of 1935 that puts Americans to work,” he said. “If Democrats support that, it would make us worthy of a return to power. Short of that we do not deserve to be in power.”

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The idea is likely to meet opposition from within the caucus. In an uncommon development, the Congressional Black Caucus next year will include at least one Republican, Allen West, who opposed the economic-stimulus program in his campaign.

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Mr. West and Tim Scott, newly elected from South Carolina, are among only six African-Americans to be elected as Republicans to the House or Senate since the Congressional Black Caucus formed in 1969.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Scott said he hadn’t made a decision about joining the caucus. The most recent black Republican in Congress, Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, didn’t join the black caucus when he was in office. The other African-American Republican lawmakers all joined. Amid Hispanic lawmakers, Republicans in 2003 formed a separate organization, the Congressional Hispanic Conference.

A second priority for the black and Hispanic caucuses is an overhaul of immigration policies that would include a pathway to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants.

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Hispanic voters, said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.), “are a critically important swing constituency.” He said they would “support the party that is serious about fixing our immigration system in a way that rejects mass deportation and is realistic about how we move forward.”

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