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Black Congressmen In Line for Key Committee Leadership Positions

Black Congressmen In Line for Key Committee Leadership Positions
Both political parties are campaigning on education, but Democrats are expected to boost financial aid if they gain control of Congress.
By Charles Dervarics

For African-Americans, the 2006 mid-term elections present an opportunity to expand their power base on Capitol Hill and give higher education more visibility in Congress.

Should Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives — as some analysts predict — Blacks are in line for the chairmanships of at least three major committees. Those favored for top jobs based on seniority include: Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., at the Ways and Means Committee; Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., at the Judiciary Committee; and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., at the Homeland Security Committee. There currently are no Black committee chairs in the House.

Conyers’ potential succession to the Judiciary Committee is perhaps the most controversial among political observers, particularly bloggers, who play an increasingly large role in get-out-the-vote efforts. Conservatives say Conyers would seek the immediate impeachment of President Bush after a Democratic takeover. The Michigan lawmaker denies this but says he would push for a special committee to examine the Iraq war
policy and alleged violations of privacy and civil liberties.

If this bipartisan panel found evidence of impeachable offenses, he says, the Judiciary Committee then would take up the issue. “I readily admit that I have been quite vigorous, if not relentless, in questioning the administration,” the lawmaker wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed.

“One-party rule has dug our nation into a deep hole over the past six years.”

Republicans currently hold a 15-seat advantage in the House, though many polls in mid-October showed Democrats poised to make gains. Dr. Ronald Walters, a political scientist and director of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, says he expects the Democrats to pick up about 25 seats — enough to give them control by a small margin next year. Some Republican strategists are preparing for the possibility of losing as many as 30 House seats.

But such a switch by itself would not guarantee wholesale shifts in federal policy. “It’s going to be difficult,” Walters says, unless Democrats also re-take the Senate. He says about 10 seats are potentially in play in the Senate this year, where Republicans have a six-seat advantage.

“If Democrats won both houses, obviously they’d be in a stronger position,” Walters says.

Even in the House, Democratic leaders would need help from conservatives in their own party or moderates in the GOP to make major policy changes in education or other issues, he says. Any effort to deny senior African-Americans a shot at leadership posts would be a huge mistake, he says. “All hell would break loose.”

Recent polls show Democrats ahead in races across the country. But the mid-term picture remains a murky one. Election Projection, an in-depth research service, forecasts a gain of 13 House seats for the Democrats — which would continue to leave them in the minority. The Cook Political Report, a well-respected journal, had the GOP still with a slight advantage in the House during mid-October, with another 19 House seats rated as “toss-ups.”

Both parties are working hard to demonstrate their commitment to financial aid. Democrats are pledging more attention to the issue if they take over the House. Current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says Democrats will seek a major increase in Pell Grants, up to $5,100 for the neediest students. The maximum grant has remained at $4,050 for the past four years.

“Nothing brings more money to the treasury than investing in our children’s education and making college more affordable,” she says. Pelosi claims that Democrats, if victorious, would cut student loan interest rates in half and increase tax deductions for college tuition.

Should Democrats claim the House, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., is in line to take over the Committee on Education and the Workforce from its current chair, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif. “I would expect Democrats to take on that issue [financial aid] if they’re in control,” Walters says. “The debt burden for minority students is tremendous.”

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