The House Judiciary Committee heard arguments on Wednesday that would study the effects of slavery and discrimination in the US and would recommend appropriate remedies.
House Resolution 40 would not award reparations on its own, but would establish the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans, which would then make recommendations on reparations. The commission would issue its findings within one year of its formation.
Three members would be appointed by the president, three by the speaker of the House, one by the president pro-tempore of the Senate, and six would represent major civil society and reparations organizations.
The bill appears to have the support of President Joe Biden.
“He continues to demonstrate his commitment to take comprehensive action, to address the systemic racism that persists today, obviously that is having that study as a part of that, but he has signed an executive order on his first day, which would begin to deliver on his commitment to having an all-across government approach to addressing racial inequality and making sure equity is a part of his entire policy agenda,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. "But he certainly would support a study of reparations on, we understand, that we don't need a study to take action right now."
One of the bill’s biggest proponents, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, said that the goal is not to just send direct payments to those who have been discriminated.
“Though critics have argued that the idea of reparations is unworkable politically or financially, their focus on money misses the point of the H.R. 40 commission’s mandate. The goal of these historical investigations is to bring American society to a new reckoning with how our past affects the current conditions of African Americans and to make America a better place by helping the truly disadvantaged,” she wrote last year. “Consequently, the reparations movement does not focus on payments to individuals, but to remedies that can be created in as many forms necessary to equitably address the many kinds of injuries sustained from chattel slavery and its continuing vestiges.”
Republican Rep. Burgess Owens of Utah suggested that reparations are not practical. Owens is one of only two Black Republican members of Congress.
“Reparations is not the way to write a country is wrong,” Owens said. “It is impractical and a nonstarter for the United States government to pay reparations. It is also unfair and -- is like a joke that this is rounded to the reality Black American history is not one of the hapless helpless race press by more powerful white race.”