On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is set to hold a vote on a bill that would address slavery in the United States and create a commission in order to study potential slavery reparations.
The current bill under consideration is H.R. 40 and its purpose is:
To address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to make potential adjustments to the bill and vote on it on Wednesday. The measure was first introduced in 1989 by Democratic Representative John Conyers, and if it makes it out of the committee, it will have its first vote on the House floor since then.
According to NPR, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), the sponsor of the current bill, described H.R. 40 as “enabling legislation to address the deep-seated racism and historic and systemic elements of mistreatment of African Americans through the centuries.”
“We think it will be cleansing for this nation, and we think that it will be a step moving America forward to see us debate this question on the floor of the House,” she said.
At a hearing for the bill earlier this year, opponents of the idea of slavery reparations spoke about the issue. The Daily Wire reported that Rep. Jackson Lee called out Republicans for choosing black witnesses to speak out against her proposed legislation.
She said, “Like our last hearing, the minority has selected two African-American witnesses to speak against HR 40. That is their privilege. But we know that justice, facts and that life that was led and continues to be led by African Americans is on our side.”
Utah Republican Representative Burgess Owens, who is black, reportedly argued that reparations would amount to “socialism” and were “impractical,” and that it is “unfair and heartless to give black Americans the hope that this is a reality.”
Owens counter-proposed that politicians should “give us back our history” and that “as we accept our lineage as victors, the same history will command the respect of our fellow Americans — an example of how to overcome the most overwhelming odds.”
The bill is expected to face a difficult journey with Republican opponents in the House and Senate. In order to get past the filibuster in the Senate, the bill would need 60 votes, which some believe to be unlikely.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus for the first time. NPR reported that legislators who attended the meeting said that the issue of reparations was discussed. Rep. Jackson Lee told the media that “we have heard from not only the president, but the White House and his team, that he is committed to this concept.”