Is the Congressional Black Caucus Dying of Neglect?

Shunned by President Obama, the organization could be out in the cold in the next Administration unless it finds a new role.

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Has President Obama killed off the Congressional Black Caucus? From the very beginning, President Obama and his campaign promised the CBC nothing, so no one - not even the 42 CBC members - should be shocked that, at this point, they have gained minimal legislative progress with Obama in the White House and that they have apparently lost much of the influence they had in Washington. 

The President and his administration seem to have unique disregard for the CBC. This could be because, at the beginning of his candidacy, many of its members urged him not to run while they publically supported Hillary Clinton's bid for President. Since taking office 16 months ago, he has been slow to meet with the Caucus and when he did it was after meeting with old-line civil rights leaders.

If President Obama does not find a way to empower the CBC, he has effectively neutralized it, not just for the duration of his Presidency, but for future administrations as well. The issue could have repercussions beyond this moment; the after-effects could be even more damaging under a Romney, Pawlenty or Palin presidency.  For now, the Caucus is made to sit at the small table and be quiet; under the next Republican presidency it may have to eat outside.

With the election of Barack Obama, power shifted for black Americans in ways that none of us were ready for, and collectively, we still haven't wrapped our minds completely around what his presidency and administration can mean for the future of black people on a practical level.  With his election, we had every right to be elated and overjoyed; the experience was cathartic for most of us.  We needed that moment after eight long Bush years. We needed some relief from the burden of being overlooked and underserved in America.

The irony is that the CBC probably had more leverage with Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter than with President Obama.  Those two previous Democrats couldn't afford to have African-American constituents see them seem high-handed with the CBC. President Obama doesn't have that problem.  Many people voted for more than Obama. We also voted for a Democrat with a broad progressive agenda and trusted that he would aid all the underserved in a way that no other President has in the last fifteen years. 

The silencing of the CBC by the White House has been confusing for Black America.  The CBC has long served as  the bridge between the ways of Washington and the consciousness of urban America. Its members have served urban communities, which in America is a specific demographic: black and brown, women and children. 

For previous presidential administrations, the CBC was a powerful political utility that could translate public policy into language that Black America could understand. But with the election of Barack Obama, the CBC has been displaced and relegated to placeholders instead of stakeholders in shaping the betterment and recovery of their constituents.

In November 2009, the CBC began promoting solutions to the White House and Congress, including funding for job training, summer job programs, and existing federal job initiatives to be directed to the communities hardest hit by unemployment. Specifically, the members called for at least 10 percent of funding for these programs to target areas with poverty rates of 15 percent or higher, or unemployment greater than 10 percent.

All of these provisions were ignored in the first jobs bill.  Fighting back against the snub, 21 members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted "nay" on the bill. And although it narrowly passed, the protest showed that they have the potential to block Obama's agenda if they continue to be ignored.

The President has been forthright with the CBC and with black America on his strategy: "I will tell you that I think the most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again," the president told Richard Wolf of USA Today.