Why The Bill To Study Slavery's Impact Hasn't Moved In Congress For Months

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It's been months since the would-be landmark reparations bill has moved in Congress, and the lack of action is quite noticeable.

In April, the bill, H.R. 40, was pushed to a House committee vote, marking the first time a reparations bill had officially made some movement at the federal level. But, the bill has yet to be taken up by a full House vote or made much of any other movement.

H.R. 40 –– named after the unfulfilled Reconstruction-era promise of "40 acres and a mule" –– has been at least 30 years in the making and the lack of action taken on it is weighing heavy for activists and proponents of the legislation, particularly because of the inaction on the federal police reform bill named after George Floyd, and federal voting rights protection bill named after the late Rep. John Lewis.

The reparations legislation would formally establish a commission who'd be tasked with evaluating the impact of slavery and racism on Black people in the US. The 13-person panel would hold hearings and submit its findings to Congress and make recommendations for "appropriate remedies" including a "national apology" for slavery.

"I don't think anyone could argue against the fact that the trajectory of slavery has gone through the centuries, through the decades and is in the DNA of descendants of enslaved Africans," Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee of Texas, who began sponsoring the bill after the late Rep. John Conyers retired, told NPR.

"America would do well to try to bring healing and repair, in this time and in this century."

Republican Arguments Against Reparations

Republican Jim Jordan argued that reparations would give money to Black people "who were never subject to the evil of slavery" and complained that the Congressional leadership in charge of appointing the commission is all Democrats and therefore biased.

"Spend $20 million for a commission that's already decided to take money from people who were never involved in the evil of slavery and give it to people who were never subject to the evil of slavery," Jordan said during a hearing on the bill. "That's what Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are doing."

Rep. Burgess Owens of Utah, a Black Republican, is against reparations, stating that the concept of it is "divisive."

"Reparation where you take people's money that they've earned –– it's punishment, it's theft, it's judgment," Owens said. "It's saying that because of your skin color, you owe me. That is not the American way. We're not racist people. This American country is based on meritocracy."

Jackson Lee says arguments like these miss the entire point of the bill –– which is to study slavery's impact on the nation and does not give instruction on what type of reparations should be given.

Some are calling for President Joe Biden to act without Congress, though it's not certain if he'll go that route of forming the commission of his own.

Some cities have started their own reparations efforts at the local levels to address housing discrimination and other forms of racism.

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