Cedric Richmond
CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (center) with other colleagues (Courtesy photo)

During his 2017 swearing-in as the new chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond spoke boldly of what constituents could expect from the famed legislative group that was established in 1971.

“We will confront those who seek to divide,” Richmond said. “We will be clear about our demands on behalf of black people across the globe. We will venture outside of Washington regularly to engage our people in the places they live, work and worship, we will heed the many lessons from our leaders who came before, but we will innovate and evolve to tackle the challenges of today.”

Richmond noted that the CBC would act deliberately and engage on its own terms.

“We won’t give in; we won’t give up; we won’t fall back and we will move our people and our nation forward,” he said in a speech that came just days before Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.

Twelve months into the Trump presidency, the CBC clearly has its work cut out.

Shortly, the group will issue its 2018 legislative priorities. In the meantime, many of its members have taken to social media to express their priorities and views.

“In 2018, let’s resolve to speak the truths we have been reminded of too often over the last year,” Rep. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tweeted. “Racism is real in this country. Sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism are real in this country. Unless we speak that truth, we will not confront it honestly.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, Harris’ California Democratic colleague, took direct aim at the president.

“Yet again, the Trump administration is choosing to enrich Big Oil at the expense of the American people,” Lee said of Trump’s move to open nearly all offshore waters to drilling. “This isn’t over. The American people will keep fighting to protect our coast,”

Lee said Congress has a responsibility to rein in Trump’s “dangerous saber-rattling.”

“We can start by passing H.R. 669, restricting first use of nuclear weapons,” she said.

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott also weighed in on a major priority for 2018.

“If Congress can afford over $1 trillion in new deficits for vast tax cuts for corporations and billionaires, then Congress can afford to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP),” Scott wrote on Twitter this week.

Reportedly, Congress plans to soon address the future of CHIP and entitlement cuts.

An Urban Institute analysis revealed that 49 percent — or 7.7 million — of children ages 3 and younger relied on CHIP or Medicaid insurance for poor Americans in 2015, a figure more that constitutes more than any other form of insurance coverage.

“Because young children and their parents rely on Medicaid at higher rates than older children and their parents, contractions of Medicaid funding would have outsize effects on families with young children,” researchers wrote in the report.

Such “contractions” in CHIP and Medicaid spending became more real before the holidays when the Republican-led Congress passed a temporary budget that only extended CHIP through the end of March, leaving long-term funding up in the air, according to Forbes.

Furthermore, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he wants to consider entitlement reforms in health care that could lead to reduced spending on Medicaid, Chip and other health care programs.

“I am calling on you to do the right thing and fund CHIP now — a 3-month extension is not enough for the children in Pennsylvania and families in need nationwide,” Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Dwight Evans tweeted. “I want to reassure you that our fight in 2018 continues. We must overcome the hurdles that come our way in our fight to build a stronger tomorrow.”

Richmond has urged the GOP to prevent harm to CHIP.

He said close to 2 million children across this country are in danger of losing CHIP coverage in January, with another 1 million set to lose coverage in February.

A short-term approach to providing these children and their families with certainty is absolutely irresponsible, Richmond said.

“Without swift reauthorization and fully funded coverage, young lives hang in the balance. Congress’ failure to act will set off a chain of dire consequences for children, as well as their families, communities, and states. A family without insurance is a family more likely to fall victim to financial crisis related to medical costs, such as bankruptcy,” he said.

Similarly, Community Health Centers play an essential role in low-income communities as they protect and expand access to critical and affordable care, Richmond said, noting that the Community Health Centers Fund provides mandatory funding for federal health centers, which provide primary, dental, and other supportive care in medically underserved areas.

“Robust and reliable support for Community Health Centers results in more health centers, an increased number of patient visit, and more available services. These services save lives, especially in communities struggling to provide affordable care to poor, largely minority communities,” he said.

The CHCF is even more essential to the more than 27 million people it helps support in light of recent efforts to dismantle the nation’s health insurance market.

“As you well know, the elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate will add 13 million uninsured Americans, increase premiums by 10 percent, and make it harder for sick people to get insurance,” Richmond said. “The Congressional Black Caucus has been the conscience of this Congress since its inception in 1971. We have provided moral leadership and courageous advocacy for our constituents and for all Americans that have felt disenfranchised or left behind. It is urgent that Congress act to reauthorize CHIP and Community Health Centers and provide robust funding for both. It is time for Congress to do what it is responsible and moral.”

Already, D.C. Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton is taking action in 2018. She was expected this week to lead a CBC forum on the lack of diversity and, in some cases, lack of qualifications in Trump’s nominations for the federal bench.

“Because African-Americans have always been disproportionately affected by federal court decisions, the Congressional Black Caucus is virtually obligated to investigate the fairness of the federal judiciary, no matter who is president,” Norton said. “These lifetime appointments will have monumental impacts on the future of the nation and on all Americans, none more so than on African Americans and others seeking an equal place in our country.”

A Congressional Research Service analysis of the last three presidents’ nominees for the federal bench through the end of the first year of their first terms shows a particularly concerning lack of diversity among President Trump’s nominees.

While President Clinton’s nominees were 72.3 percent white, President George W. Bush’s were 86.2 percent white and President Obama’s were 48.5 percent white, “President Trump’s nominees were a staggering 91.2 percent white,” Norton said.

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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