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Using our clout in Congress.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has come of age. Last November's election gave the CBC numerical clout, when its voting membership leapt from 23 to 39, Carol Moseley Braun (D.-Ill.) joined the Senate and 17 new House members were elected. But the CBC's prestige in the 103rd Congress is for more than its voting power (see Washington Page, March 1993). There is unprecedented esteem for the CBC's political acumen and influence, which will be tested as Congress tackles President Clinton's $500 billion economic package.

However, Congress is more than a numbers game. Sen. Braun has a vote equal to only 1% of the Senate but she sits on the Senate Judiciary, Small Business, and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committees. In the House, the CBC's 37 liberal Democratic representatives are a voting bloc equal to 8.5% of the 435-person body. This bloc doesn't include Rep. Gary A. Franks (R-Conn.), the CBC's lone Republican, or Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Wash., D.C.), who can vote in committee but not the House.

The CBC's real influence may be felt in House leadership. John Lewis of Georgia is one of four House chief deputy whips. And now several CBC members have prominence on House committees. One CBC member is chair of one of the six key committees, and several members are close to becoming chairpersons of other committees. More CBC members lead subcommittees than ever, and first-year legislators have been elected to committees freshmen dream of joining.

This trend has energized black congressional leaders. Last winter, CBC Chairman Kweisi Mfume D.-Md.) predicted: "More than at any time in CBC history, we hold power. We will have positions on powerful committees; we will have influential subcommittee chairs."

He was right. In Washington, D.C., most observers agree that the most powerful House committees are Appropriations, Energy and Ways and Means, followed closely by Armed Forces, Budget and Judiciary. Last January, 12-term California Rep. Ronald V. Dellums became an important House leader when his peers elected him House Armed Services committee chairman, replacing Les Aspin who became Defense Secretary.

Rep. Dellums may have company in a few years. Under House seniority rules for committee leadership, Illinois Rep. Cardiss Collins ranks sixth on Energy and Commerce; Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr. is third on Judiciary; New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel holds fourth place on the Ways and Means Committee, which writes all congressional revenue measures; and William L. Clay of Missouri ranks second on Labor.

Appointment to these key committees is prized by second-, third- and even fourth-term representatives. All members are elected by prospective colleagues who gauge their expertise and experience.

CBC members are making the cut. This year, two-term Louisiana Rep. William J. Jefferson was elected to House Ways and Means. He was joined, surprisingly, by first-year Illinois Rep. Mel Reynolds. The Energy and Commerce committee selected two-term Texas Rep. Craig Washington and Connecticut Rep. Franks. Another first-termer, Florida Rep. Carrie Meek, joined the powerful House Appropriations committee, just as she had promised her constituents.

Black clout doesn't end here, though. Caucus members also chair two of the other 22 full committees. Michigan Rep. Conyers and Missouri Rep. Clay head, respectively, the Government Operations, and Post Office and Civil Service committees.

In coming months, BLACK ENTERPRISE will analyze how well the CBC uses its new power and influence. --Frank McCoy
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Author:McCoy, Frank
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1993
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