The Congressional Black Caucus on Dec. 10 said its members overwhelmingly oppose the tax cuts compromise reached between the White House and congressional Republicans, saying it is “bad for African Americans” and other vulnerable communities.

“You can’t give tax cuts away like you’re Oprah Winfrey or Santa Claus,” Virginia Democrat Rep. Bobby Scott, a member of the House Budget Committee, said during a Capitol Hill press conference. “Someone eventually has to pay for it.”

And traditionally, it’s been communities of color that have had to pay, the Black lawmakers said.

President Obama and the Republican leadership reached a deal that would extend Bush-era tax cuts in exchange for also extending unemployment benefits and other programs favored by Obama.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the tax deal is projected to increase the national deficit by almost $900 billion—a figure larger than the recent financial stimulus measures—adding to an already towering debt. And to reduce that balance, Republicans will likely impose “draconian” cuts on programs important to minority communities such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and health care, CBC members said.

“There are tough choices that will have to be made next year we know what will happen—it’s going to be low-income communities, poor communities of color that are going to pay,” Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) told reporters.

The Caucus offered its own plan, which is built on some elements of the existing deal:
-A 13-month extension of unemployment insurance benefits plus additional assistance for the chronically unemployed.
– A payroll tax holiday with a guarantee that Social Security would not be affected.
-Two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts to middle- and low-income families.
-Extension of the Recovery Act’s Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and $2,500 college credit.

But the Caucus rebuked Republicans for their insistence on cuts to the estate tax, which Scott called “particularly offensive,” and the tax cut for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, both of which will cost $114 billion in lost revenue.

“At a time when our economy is recovering steadily from a deep recession, middle income, working families in Maryland and throughout the country need reassurance that they will not find themselves with less of their hard-earned dollars and holding the note for the wealthiest 2 percent of earners,” said Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards (D) in a statement. “It is unfortunate that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not share this view.”

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) echoed that sentiment. “If we recklessly cut taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent then Obamanomics will look an awful lot like Reaganomics,” he said in a statement.

Jackson and others say the tax cuts won by Republicans reflect President Reagan’s “starve the beast” strategy of lowered taxes and increased spending in areas such as defense that would then force Congress to make deep cuts in social programs. And the recently passed health care reform act may well be the chief target of this strategy.

“This just gives our Republican colleagues another chance to play, ‘Gotcha,’” said Virgin Islands Rep. Donna Christiansen. “If we extend the upper end tax cuts and add that big estate tax giveaway, when we move to fund implementation of the Affordable Care Act there’ll be no money—‘Gotcha!’ And when the 2012 election rolls around, and the tax cuts are about to expire, if we don’t extend them again we, the Democrats, will be blamed for raising taxes—‘Gotcha!’”

The Black lawmakers said though they object to the deal, they understand the President felt jammed against a wall.

“ as much as he continues to extend the olive branch, to compromise on their behalf, they really don’t seem to appreciate it,” said U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) “And so we’re saying at this point, line in the sand, enough is enough.”

Payne said that the President followed his previous pattern of not including the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats in the negotiation process. Payne made similar claims during the health care reform debate.

“He could have called us in and said, ‘Look, this is what they’ve offered; these are my options,” he said. “What do you think? At least bring us in so we can understand the situation… For him to meet with primarily Republicans…is not a way to negotiate. We felt we could have been helpful to him.
“He gave away the shop before he even brought us in to help him.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO