Energized with a new chairman and five new freshman House members, the Congressional Black Caucus was sworn in for the 113th Congress Jan. 3 with a pledge from incoming Chairman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to “play to win” with the Obama administration in the battle for jobs, income opportunity and political influence for Black America.
“I’m looking forward to working with the administration, I’m certainly proud of our president but there are some things I think we need to discuss.”
“If we are merely players at this juncture in our history, let us play to win, [because] our present and our future depend on it,” she said.
Her remarks reflected turmoil in the 112th Congress when the relationship between the CBC and President Obama was not always harmonious especially on the issues of unemployment and health care reform. However, Fudge is focused on starting early on a legislative agenda with the Obama administration.
“I’d like for us to start off on the right foot. I’d like for us to talk early enough with the administration such that we’re on the same page where we can be and where we can’t be we can at least decide to disagree agreeably,” said Fudge
After receiving the honorary gavel from outgoing Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Fudge summed up the motivation for the CBC’s continued work.
“After years of progress we are now witnessing the disappearance of opportunities that allow everyone to realize their highest potential; in our communities, schools and in some cases in our homes,” said Congresswoman Fudge.
The CBC leadership for the 113th Congress includes Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) as vice chair, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) as second vice chair, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) as secretary and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) as whip.
The five new members of the 41-year-old caucus are Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Rep. Steve Horsford (D-Nev.), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas).
The CBC newcomers expressed the importance of joining a caucus with a long history of supporting African-American policy needs.
“There’s a great tradition and legacy that the CBC has had, consistently pushing the progressive agenda forward for African-Americans, people of color and struggling communities across the country,” said 42-year old, Jeffries who represents Brooklyn, N.Y.. “We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go.”
Caucus senior members emphasized the current economic and political climate as the CBC driving force.
“Look at the times we’re in now, it seems that Congress often forgets about the middle class or the folks struggling to get into the middle class.” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “When we look at the conservative tea party that has come along, you need some push back for folks pushing policy that work against our community.”
The most pressing issue the caucus faces is African-American unemployment which stands at 14% according to the December 2012 jobs report from the Department of Labor. The December figures reflect black unemployment increasing from 13.2% in November.
Fudge said that “jobs and employment are the top of our agenda” and Jeffries said he feels “African-American unemployment is at unacceptably high levels.”
Cummings stressed working with President Obama to get African-Americans back to work.
“We have to try and work with this president to push his agenda which is to open more doors of stimulus funding for projects that will employ people such as infrastructure and money for black colleges and universities,” Cummings said.