As the highest ranking African-American lawmaker in Congress, South Carolina Democrat James Clyburn is no stranger to high pressure negotiations or controversy. Clyburn’s latest assignment, however, as the only Black panelist on the 12- member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, will call on his considerable political skills and his social insights, honed over decades of civil rights battles in the south.

“Too often, the human side gets lost in the Washington debates about our nation’s debt and deficits. I will seek to keep those interests on the table.” said Clyburn, who is the assistant Democratic leader in the House.

Clyburn came to Congress in 1993. He was instrumental in passing laws to reduce the statutory disparity in cocaine sentencing and to compensate Native American and African-American farmers who suffered racial discrimination under the USDA loan program.

Appointed to the panel by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Clyburn says he has a dual mission: protect the military bases in the sixth district of South Carolina that he calls home, while still maintaining the viability of federal entitlement programs that help minorities and the poor.

The deficit panel is charged with recommending $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by Thanksgiving. If the panel deadlocks, or if Congress fails to pass its recommendations by Christmas, then across the board spending cuts will hit the defense department as well as entitlement programs.

The deficit cutting panel was established as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 on Aug. 2. In addition to the panel’s $1.5 billion in cuts, the law also approved an additional $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade in return for raising the limit of federal borrowing. Clyburn had called on President Obama to use the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to entirely bypass the need for Congressional approval to raise the debt ceiling.

In order to secure the nation’s financial future, Clyburn said that wasteful military spending is appropriate to consider, but so are unnecessary tax incentives to oil companies that make billions every quarter. Republican leaders in the House and Senate appointed conservative members to the panel, all but ensuring that tax increases will not be approved.

Clyburn said the time for protecting wealthier taxpayers at the expense of the poor and elderly is at an end. ”In 2011, the gap continues to grow wider between those who enjoy great wealth and those who struggle to get by with little thought of ever getting ahead,” Clyburn said.

“I look forward to working on this committee to seek solutions to secure our nation’s financial future in a fair and balanced way that requires shared sacrifice and creates opportunity for all Americans,” he said.


Stephen K. Cooper

Special to the AFRO