Out of the 190 Democrats in the House, 75 voted against the Congressional Black Caucus budget. During the annual budget debate in Congress many say alternative budgets offered by the CBC, the Progressive Caucus and the Republican Study Group are purely symbolic litmus tests.
If that’s true, what does 75 Democrats joining with 239 Republicans against the Black Caucus budget symbolize? And many of the Democrats voting against the CBC budget represent large minority constituencies.
African American support for the Democratic party remains huge. In 2008, President Obama received 96% of the African American vote. In 1992, 83% of African Americans voted for President Clinton. Currently, the Democratic party is attempting to energize Blacks at Historically Black Colleges and Universities for registration drives and campaign activity. The Obama campaign includes an African Americans for Obama effort.
The Congressional Black Caucus has offered a budget proposal for the last 30 years. In 1981, the CBC offered an alternative budget proposal for the first time in response to Ronald Reagan’s budget for FY1982. The Hispanic Caucus does not offer an alternative budget, making the CBC budget the only alternative fiscal plan offered by minorities in Congress.
This year’s CBC budget proposal included proposals to close corporate loopholes, a millionaire tax surcharge and protection of Medicare and Social Security. It also did not include big defense cuts as seen in the Progressive Caucus budget — the Black Caucus numbers on defense spending were identical to those in the House Democratic leadership’s proposal presented by Chris Van Hollen. Only the Republican Study Group budget reduced the debt more than the CBC Budget, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The House GOP budgets focused on repealing the the health care reform bill, eliminating federal programs including the NEA and public broadcasting and block granting Medicaid for debt reduction. Their proposals also raised the retirement ages for Social Security to 70.
Of the 75 Democrats who voted against the Black Caucus budget proposal, over 56 voted for the similarly fashioned House Democratic proposal.
The Black Caucus budget proposal funded Community Block Grants and Pell Grants that were cut in President Obama’s budget proposal. There was also a financial speculation tax, a tax on capital gains and a tax on those making over $1 million dollars. The budget presented on Wednesday by CBC Chair Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Bobby Scott (D-VA) and CBC Budget Committee members Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Karen Bass (D-CA) cut the deficit by $4 trillion (over 10 years) more than the White House budget proposal and $700 billion more than the House GOP budget presented by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan.
The list of Democrats who voted “no” on the CBC budget includes members who represent large minority constituencies. It also includes senior members of the Democratic Caucus. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) is the top Democrat on Appropriations — he voted no. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) is the most senior Democrat on the House Education and Labor Committee. Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) is the senior Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) is the most senior Democrat on the House Transportation Committee. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), the second highest ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee and the head of candidate recruitment for the DCCC, also voted against the CBC budget though her district is 20% minority. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) also voted no as did Rep. Diana DeGette who is the Chief Democratic Deputy Whip.
Despite many having large minority populations, Democrats voting against the CBC’s proposal ignored its mandate to fund job training, a public option for health care and added money to annual Pell Grant awards.
Rep. Larry Kissell’s district in North Carolina is 28% Black. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) represents a 60% minority district. Rep. Nita Lowey’s New York district is 16% Hispanic and 10% Black. Rep. John Carney represents Delaware which is 22% Black and 8% Hispanic. Rep. Martin Heinrich’s New Mexico district is 42% Hispanic. Rep. Jim Himes, who represents Bridgeport, Conn. has a 23% minority constituency. Rep. Carl Levin has a 15% minority district and Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada’s district is 12% Black and 28% Hispanic. Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, who are running against each other in a primary, have districts that have over 50% minority populations. Rep. Lois Capps of California has a 40% minority district. All voted against the Congressional Black Caucus Budget.
When asked about their votes several members indicated they had not read the Congressional Black Caucus Budget closely and voted “no.” A “no” vote was the obvious default position for many members. However, other members did have detailed reasons for their no vote including Reps. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Mike Quigley (D-IL).
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also offered a detailed answer for voting no on the CBC Budget. “I just got the same question from [Rep. Jim] Cooper who asked me about his budget. I said, look I believe everyone has to roll up their sleeves — and the deficit is very serious — but you can’t put a formula on defense or intelligence, you have to react to what China, Russia and al-Qaeda are doing.”
Giving no specific reason for his vote against the CBC Budget, Rep. George Miller said, “My concern is the process. This whole process has been so diminished just trying to keep focus on the Democratic budget and the Republican budget to me is the most important — I think everything else is sort of noise. I don’t want to diminish their efforts and all that because I’ve always supported it but I just think you have to recognize that the budget process has just become just so diminished, we’re just trying to hold some integrity in to it.”
Rep. Levin of Michigan said: “It was mainly issues relating to tax policy, so I think — I’ve talked to people within the CBC and our staffs. I have a lot of respect for much of it I just — I think as ranking member on tax issues I think I need to be able to keep working for very clear reforms,” when asked why he voted no.
Rep. Himes answered, “I’m voting for Cooper and I’m voting against all the other budgets because I think that Cooper is the one out there than actually presents the possibility of a bi-partisan approach. I don’t have anything against the CBC budget but my strategy is to vote for the one budget that I feel is the best budget,” Himes was referring to a budget amendment offered by Blue Dog Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee that reflected the ideas in the Simpson/Bowles Commission proposals. Several Democrats including Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) expressed a similar sentiment.
A few Democrats questioned on their vote against the CBC budget were taken aback by the question. Reps. Zoe Loefgren (D-CA) responded, “I’ll have to get back to you on that I’m not gonna give interviews as I’m walking…” when asked about her vote. Lofgren’s California district is over 60% minority with large Hispanic and Asian population. Rep. Dave Loebsack of Iowa said, before hearing the entire question, “I don’t have a comment call my office…” Two calls to Loebsack’s office and to Lofgren’s office for further clarification were not returned.
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She is heard every Tuesday on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WHUR and WPFW in Washington DC. You can follow her on twitter at @crewof42