01/04/2008 01:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Black Orphans of the Beltway

It is clear that some shocking truths have been exposed by the introduction of transparency into the earmarking appropriations process. Following the Party's usual pattern of taking Blacks for granted, House Democrats treat Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members like orphans. A few favored ones are allowed to feast at the main table; however, most CBC members are left in the kitchen with the crumbs.

But could it be that since most CBC members have seniority, they have already dined at the "regular" budget banquet where the beef is served? Do the most needy districts get their fair share upfront? A comprehensive review of three decades of the appropriations process demonstrates that the answer to this question is a resounding NO.

The more recent charts, statistics and impressive dollar figures (published in the October1st Congressional Weekly) related to earmarking are mere exposures of the tip of an old ugly iceberg of neglect. A more thorough investigation of the budget management over the past three decades will show that equal opportunity has been a very low priority indeed.

Under Gingrich, DeLay and the Republicans the shortchanging of the ninety-nine percent Democratic CBC was punishment to be expected. But the lopsided record shows that during their forty year domination of the House, the big spending by the Democrats was seldom shared with their most loyal minority. Except for Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson Blacks have always been treated like orphans of the Beltway.

Defying the polls, ignoring the members of his cabinet and risking his reelection, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and set in motion a process of freeing the slaves that later could not be reversed. Lincoln is undisputedly the greatest benefactor of slaves and their descendants. By granting slaves freedom he appropriated to them ownership of themselves.

Franklin Roosevelt, as the champion of the poor and all of the bottom of the economic ladder, also provided critical aid to Blacks. But this was coincidental to combating a depression that smothered the total economy.

President Bill Clinton appointed more Blacks to government than any other chief executive, but with a 220 billion dollar surplus he refused to provide adequate job training and day care for demonized welfare families. And Clinton made no budget allocation for the school construction and modernization which he advocated in his last State of the Union Address: "So tonight, I propose to help, 5,000 schools a year make immediate and urgent repairs, and again to help build or modernize 6,000 more to get students out of trailers and into high tech classrooms."

The true champion of the Beltway orphans and second only to Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson specifically targeted the power and dollars of the federal government to meet the needs of the nation's struggling Black population. Head Start, the Community Action Program, Job Corps, Medicaid, Model Cities, The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, etc. never mentioned race but by formula were focused on the areas of greatest poverty where Black populations were most dense. At the height of its brief sojourn Johnson's Economic Opportunity Act commanded an annual appropriation of about three billion dollars.

Racism is a complex evil that defies accurate quantification; however, when evaluating the mind- set and policy positions of a government a measurement of the amount of appropriation dollars approved or denied to a specific constituency is a legitimate integer for the equation. The consistent and escalating denial over the last 30 years of funds for programs which most directly benefit Blacks is a monstrous fact that can be objectively documented. The draining of federal funding from poor inner city and rural poverty areas can be clearly charted. Both the beef and the pork have been severely rationed.

And now, in 2007, the House Democrats have been responsive enough to provide earmarking transparency for a public left in the dark far too long. Instead of being overwhelmed by the shocking revelations of inequity we should applaud the action of the Democrats and go on to further reform a system which could provide local constituent groups with the opportunity to influence the direct allocation of a tiny fraction of the nearly two trillion dollar national budget. Transform "pork earmarks" into ten dollar per person "constituent choices" and we will launch a major innovation to counterattack the bloated, bureaucratic, impersonal aloofness or our present complex modern democracy.

At the same time such continued appropriation transparency will make it possible to force the Washington powers to address the needs of the Black constituencies who are presently the orphans of the Beltway.