Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz promised Monday that if she becomes House Appropriations Committee chairwoman next year, she’ll establish an advisory panel to address systemic racism in federal funding.
The Florida Democrat is one of at least three panel members campaigning to replace retiring Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut are the other declared candidates seeking the top Democratic slot on the powerful committee amid a rejuvenated national conversation about race after recent high-profile killings of Black people by police officers.
“This panel would help the Committee refocus federal spending decisions on the issues and demands of equity, justice, and diversity,” Wasserman Schultz wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter released Monday. “To do this, the panel would comprehensively review federal programs and the president’s budget requests to identify ongoing inequities in communities of color and historically marginalized communities.”
Wasserman Schultz released the proposal just before 3 p.m. Monday while the committee was wrapping up its markup of the draft fiscal 2021 Energy-Water bill, managed by Kaptur, and beginning to debate the draft Labor-HHS-Education measure, led by DeLauro. Aides to both lawmakers didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Kaptur and DeLauro each have substantially more seniority on the committee than Wasserman Schultz. But seniority isn't everything, and House Democrats have on occasion elevated more junior members to committee leadership positions.
Wasserman Schultz wrote that the advisory panel within Appropriations would be part of a broader effort, including directing funds within the dozen annual spending bills "towards communities that have suffered the deepest historical inequities and injustices."
The House Appropriations Committee has already begun to address the role of federal funding in policing during its fiscal 2021 appropriations process.
The Commerce-Justice-Science bill would establish a $400 million grant program for initiatives that would overhaul police departments.
The legislation would also set criteria for police departments hoping to receive certain funds from the Department of Justice to ensure they have training in de-escalation, elimination of racial profiling, use of force and intervening if another officer uses excessive force. Departments would also have to prohibit chokeholds and “no knock” warrants for drug cases.
DeLauro, chairwoman of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, noted during a markup last week that she will seek to remove the Hyde Amendment from the annual funding bill. That provision prevents federal funding from going to abortion coverage with limited exceptions.
Progressive Democrats have been calling for its removal for years, though recent protests have led to renewed calls from left-leaning groups to remove the amendment on grounds that it has disproportionately affected women of color.
“Let me be clear, discriminatory abortion bans like the Hyde Amendment are blatantly racist and perpetuate systems of oppression and white supremacy that target people of color —especially Black people — and their bodily autonomy,” Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass., said in a statement after the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill was released with the provision intact.
Wasserman Schultz wrote that her "bold and transformative leadership" would include a commitment to address "the challenges of racial inequality, lack of diversity, and historical and present-day injustices through the federal appropriations process."
“Voices from diverse communities and backgrounds must have a seat at the table,” she added.