The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would create a commission to study reparations for black Americans for slavery. The vote was along party lines, 25 Democrats voting yes and 17 Republicans voting against.
The bill has been designated as H.R. 40, in reference to the “40 acres and a mule” once promised to freed slaves in the South.
The bill would create a 15-member “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” which would recommend “appropriate remedies.” The text of the bill argues that slavery resulted in “systemic” discrimination against black Americans whose effects endure: “[A] preponderance of scholarly, legal, community evidentiary documentation and popular culture markers constitute the basis for inquiry into the on-going effects of the institution of slavery and its legacy of persistent systemic structures of discrimination on living African Americans and society in the United States.”
It is not clear who would pay reparations to whom. Moreover, as the Washington Post noted, one Democrat’s comments highlight another potential problem with the idea: namely, that once reparations for “systemic” problems in the past begin, it is unclear where they should end.
“Although Democrats are largely on board with the proposal,” the Post reported, “Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) used the moment to argue the nation also should issue an apology to the Mexican American community, which has faced discrimination and deportation for more than a century.”
The Post also noted Republican responses:
Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), one of two Black Republicans in the House, characterized the legislation as portraying Black communities as helpless while ignoring their successes.
“Slavery was and still is an evil,” he said. “Reparation is divisive. It speaks to the fact that we are a hapless, hopeless race that never did anything but wait for White people to show up and help us, and it’s a falsehood.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) introduced an amendment that would make the Democratic Party pay for the commission’s fees “since it is the only relevant entity today that supported the institution of slavery” throughout U.S. history. It failed on a voice vote.
The idea of reparations — or, at least, a committee to study them — was embraced by every single Democrat in the 2020 presidential primary, largely under the influence of Al Sharpton, who hosted the candidates at his National Action Network. However, only about one in four Americans supports the idea.
California enacted a law last year providing for a similar reparations commission, though it entered the Union as a free state in 1850. The liberal city of Evanston, Illinois, created the nation’s first reparations program for slavery earlier this year; it will compensate past victims of housing discrimination with funds from taxing the sale of legal marijuana.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new novel, Joubert Park, tells the story of a Jewish family in South Africa at the dawn of the apartheid era. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, recounts the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.