The massacre of innocent people was just the beginning, explained Joe Biden. African Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma would end up being excluded from home ownership, see a freeway built through their community, and experience chronic underinvestment from the government.
“This story is not about the loss of human lives, but a loss of lives, wealth, prosperity and opportunity that still reverberates today,” the US president said during a visit to mark the centenary of an attack by a white mob which left 300 dead.
He then offered hope, announcing increased efforts to narrow the racial wealth gap that has been found to be generational in Tulsa and countless other cities. But a day later, Biden found himself in Washington, haggling behind closed doors over a legislative proposal that could make or break his promise to right this systemic wrong.
When unveiled in March, the $ 2.3 billion U.S. Jobs Plan delivered on Biden’s campaign pledge by proposing to advance racial equity in education, employment, health care, housing and transport. It included $ 400 billion to create jobs and raise the wages of millions of women of color who care for the elderly and disabled.
But this is precisely the kind of provision Republicans oppose, arguing for a traditional definition of infrastructure like airports, bridges, railways and roads as well as high-speed internet.
During negotiations, they have already forced Biden to reduce his proposal to $ 1.7 billion. There are fears that, if the past form is any guide, Republicans will continue to undermine the very measures that benefit the most marginalized.
Yvette Simpson, chief executive of the progressive group Democracy for America, said: “We thought the US jobs plan was already a compromise position and that Republicans were getting even more out of it.
“When you think of who has been hit hardest by the pandemic, who is still hit hardest in this country, it’s blacks and browns. So if Republicans start dumping parts of this bill, the people who are going to be affected the most are those who need it most, which are blacks and browns. “
The Republican view of infrastructure is too narrow, Simpson added. “I always say Republicans love potholes more than people. They love bridges more than they love black life. They care more about wealthy families than working families.
“Give them whatever they want and they won’t come back to support you, so you won’t be able to spend the more important things that we need to fill the void for blacks and browns in this country. let’s talk about the care economy, about human infrastructure – things that need to stay in this bill and need to stay strong in this bill.“
The typical white family in the United States has eight times the wealth of the typical black family and five times the wealth of the typical Hispanic family, according to a Federal Reserve study.
In his speech in Tulsa, as he urged America to face disturbing truths about itself, Biden noted that the percentage of black homeowners is lower today than when the Fair Housing Act was passed. over half a century ago.
The president also took the opportunity to tout the American Jobs Plan, which includes a $ 10 billion fund to support community-led civic infrastructure projects that create innovative shared amenities; $ 15 billion for new subsidies and technical assistance for the overhaul of existing transport; a tax credit to attract private investment in affordable housing; and $ 31 billion to increase access to capital and provide technical assistance to disadvantaged small businesses.
Senate Republicans, however, are committed to a narrower definition of infrastructure and are proposing to spend a more modest $ 928 billion over eight years. Biden reportedly dismissed the counter-offer as unworkable, in part because it would be paid for by dipping into unused coronavirus relief funds; he would prefer to increase the corporate tax rate to generate income for his goal of $ 1.7 billion.
The White House has set a deadline of June 7 to see clear signs of progress in finding a deal. The president, who has been described as an apostle of bipartisanship, spent nearly an hour in a private meeting with Shelley Moore Capito, the Republicans’ chief Senate infrastructure negotiator, on Wednesday trying to strike a deal.
Capito has made his position clear. “We do not agree on the definition of infrastructure and we have worked with the president to bring it back to the basic physical idea of infrastructure that we have worked so well on in the past”, a- she told Fox News last Sunday. “Whether it’s roads and bridges, waterways, ports, lead pipelines, public transport, airports, as well as the new infrastructure we need to have everywhere – broadband. These are great categories, I think, that we can work on together.
“I think it’s so easy to say, ‘Let’s throw everything in there,’ and I think that’s what the president did initially. Human infrastructure, social infrastructure, good things to say, things that we have to take care of – child care, elder care, all of those things. But that’s not what we see as physical infrastructure or modernizing our transportation system to meet the challenges of the next century, and that’s where I think we need to focus our efforts at this point.
Improvements to physical infrastructure that modernize inner-city schools, replace lead pipes, or reduce air pollution in black and Latino neighborhoods near ports and power plants would make a welcome difference.
But Amara Enyia, policy and research coordinator for the advocacy coalition Movement for Black Lives, argues that framing Capito and other Republicans will no longer suffice.
“It doesn’t really make sense to stick to this narrow definition, which is just a testament to the fact that they are unwilling to meet the challenges this country is facing right now,” she said. declared. “You don’t have people to work on the roads, bridges and railroads if people don’t have daycare or if people aren’t healthy.
“What we are seeing is trying to be creative and broaden the definition because we are living in unprecedented times where the challenges we face will not be resolved with interventions from the past or with solutions that have maybe worked 10 years ago 20 years ago, 30 years ago.
Capito represents West Virginia, a state where Donald Trump beat Biden in a landslide and where the population is 93.5% white, 3.6% African-American. The other West Virginia senator, Joe Manchin, is a conservative Democrat who could prove decisive if the party tries to push through the U.S. jobs plan without the backing of Republicans through a congressional process known as budget reconciliation, requiring a threshold of 51 votes in the Senate.
Some activists believe there is no alternative since the Republicans’ refusal to even hold a commission on the January 6 Capitol uprising shows that they cannot be trusted. Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party (WFP), said: “The fact that Republicans could not vote on the ‘yes’ on studying a terrorist attack on themselves and their own. staff is testament to the fact that with this current Republican Party, you have no bona fide negotiators and the Democrats should absolutely go it alone.
“The proposal the Republicans shared was laughable in terms of scale. You can’t really take them seriously when President Biden presents an eight-year $ 2.3 billion package and they come back with something under a trillion that doesn’t include the economy at all. care and which is essentially a package of bridge and road infrastructure.
Black voters have been hailed as the core of the coalition that got Biden elected and urge him to maintain the line.
The Biden administration insists it will not compromise on the bill that undermines people of color. Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said at a press conference on Thursday: “The fight against racial equity is at the heart of the president’s initiatives, of his commitments to rebuild our economy across the country, and he’s certainly not going to give up on that. “
The president may be determined to learn from history. He suggested that the U.S. Jobs Plan would bring about economic and social change on a scale as monumental as President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.
Roosevelt’s grandson, James, former Associate Social Security Commissioner in the Bill Clinton administration, said: “As we now know from history, the New Deal programs have not met the needs of the government. racial equity across the country, in large part because in order to get them passed through Congress, FDR had to build a coalition that included very powerful members of Congress and segregationist senators from the South.
“Joe Biden has a very slim majority in both houses of Congress, so he’s negotiating and it’s in his nature to be bipartisan. However, he has a real awareness of the needs of racial justice, so if you see the latest negotiations between President Biden and Senator Shelley Moore Capito representing Republicans, the focus is on the weight of the tax burden on various business sectors. There is no hindrance to being anti-racist.