Black lawmakers call on Obama to do more on behalf of blacks

By Michael D. Shear and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009; 10:06 PM

Some black lawmakers sought this week to move past a dispute with the White House, saying they are satisfied that President Obama is seeking to provide greater economic assistance to African American communities.

But the members of the Congressional Black Caucus continued to insist that the administration's efforts do not go far enough, even as other African American leaders defended the nation's first black president.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who had led nine black lawmakers in holding up a financial regulation bill that Obama supported, said an agreement Monday with House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has eased her concerns.

"Absolutely, they got the message," Waters said after weeks of closed-door discussions with Obama officials.

On Monday, Frank agreed to Waters's proposal to steer $3 billion from the federal Troubled Assets Relief Program toward mortgage relief for the unemployed. The bill also sets aside $1 billion for a program that gives grants to state and local governments to buy foreclosed properties and use them for more productive purposes.

Waters said Tuesday that the two proposals would go a long way toward meeting the goals of the members of the caucus.

"I'm always happy when we win," Waters said.

But Waters and some of her colleagues in the caucus continue to express doubts about the administration's commitment to job creation in black communities.

In a speech Tuesday, Obama called for tax cuts for small businesses, incentives to hire new workers and a fresh round of infrastructure spending. He also recommended financial incentives for home weatherization.

After the speech, Waters praised Obama's comments but said she wants to "keep the pressure on" the administration. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the caucus, pressed for more direct efforts to help reduce black unemployment.

"We believe that tackling systemic inequality requires specific, concrete and targeted action," Lee said. "The Congressional Black Caucus is committed to working with President Obama to address the needs of those who are hurting most and to ensure that existing disparities don't grow wider."

Asked about those concerns Wednesday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, "The president believes the ideas that he outlined are targeted and responsible in addressing those problems."

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