The House took a step forward on a slavery reparations bill Friday by scheduling it for debate and a vote in the Judiciary Committee.
The bill would set up a commission to study reparations. If voted out of committee, the matter would come up on the House floor for the first time since 1989. The late Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced slavery reparations legislation in the House each session for nearly 30 years to no avail.
Committee chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said the measure, which is widely opposed by Republicans, is “not intended to divide” but to “bring us closer to racial understanding and advancement.”
“Today we still live with racial disparities in access to education, health care, housing, insurance, employment and other social goods that are directly attributable to the damaging legacy of slavery and government-sponsored racial discrimination,” Nadler said in a statement.
Democrats have upped their calls for a reparations bill since the death of George Floyd last summer.
The bill would not authorize direct cash payments to Black Americans but would study the implications of slavery and identify a form of restitution.
When Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, reintroduced a slavery reparations bill last summer, it had 135 co-sponsors — or about 58 percent of the House Democratic caucus.
This time around Lee, the bill’s lead co-sponsor, called the committee markup “a major step forward.”
“Through this legislation, we will finally be able to confront the stark societal disparities occurring in the African American community today and provide solutions,” she said.
White House adviser Cedric Richmond expressed optimism last month that a reparations bill would pass Congress.
President Biden backs the idea of studying the issue, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday, though she stopped short of saying he would sign the bill if it clears Congress.
“He certainly would support a study of reparations,” Psaki said at the White House briefing. “He understands we don’t need a study to take action right now on systemic racism, so he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime.”