Q&A With Bob Levey
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, May 13, 2003; Noon ET
"Levey Live" appears Tuesdays at noon ET. Your host is Washington Post columnist Bob Levey. This hour is your chance to talk directly to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.
Today, Bob's guest is Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
| Elijah Cummings |
Elected to the House of Representatives in April 1996, in a special election for Maryland's 7th Congressional District, Cummings was re-elected with 73 percent of the vote on November 12, 2002.
Now in his fifth term in Congress, and in addition to being the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, he serves on the House Government Reform Committee, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and the Subcommittee on Railroads. He is also the Ranking Member of the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee and a member of the Wellness and Human Rights Subcommittee. In addition to his standing committee assignments, Cummings is the co-chair of the House AIDS Working Group and a member of the House Task Force on Health Care Reform.
Prior to his election to Congress, Cummings served in the Maryland House of Delegates for 16 years. In the Maryland General Assembly, he served as Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and was the first African American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro Tem, the second highest position in the House of Delegates.
He graduated from Howard University with a degree in Political Science. Cummings then graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1976 and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in December 1976. He practiced law for nineteen years before entering Congress.
An active member of New Psalmist Baptist Church, Cummings lives in the Madison Park community in Baltimore City.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Bob Levey: Good afternoon, Congressman, and thank you for joining us this afternoon. Let's begin with the hot issue of the day on the Hill: President Bush's tax cuts. The Congressional Black Caucus opposes them vigorously. You've argued that it's far more important to assure health insurance for all Americans. But are you backing a losing hand on this one?
Elijah Cummings: Good afternoon Mr. Levy, and thank you for having me.
No. We are not backing a losing proposition. The fact remains that the vast majority of the tax cuts will go to the richest Americans. Unfortunately there are still 44-million Americans with no health insurance, and that number is rising hourly. With a loss of 2.2 million jobs since President Bush has been in office many people have lost their health insurance. It is the position of the Congressional Black Caucus that the tax cuts will do the majority of Americans very little good. It is more important, therefore, that we have a healthy nation.
Bob Levey: President Bush has proposed billions in aid to African countries that are fighting AIDS. Should that money have been spent here at home?
Elijah Cummings: This country has a history of providing humanitarian aid. It would be very difficult to find a case more compelling than AIDS in Africa in that hundreds of thousands of people are dying yearly. Had it not been for the $1.3 trillion tax in 2001 and the proposed tax cut this year, we would have been able to invest that money in domestic priorities.
Maryland: Rep. Cummings,
As the Chairman of the Black Caucus are you supporting the bill to establish a National Slave Memorial on the mall? This seems like an idea whose time has come. It seems to me that the Memorial would be an important step in recognizing the contributions of the slaves to this country's early growth, and a key in bringing reconciliation to the races in this country.
Elijah Cummings: I agree.
Bob Levey: Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun have not attracted serious poll numbers so far. Are they bona fide candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination?
Elijah Cummings: Yes. We are blessed to live in a country where just about any American citizen can run for the office of President. Mr. Sharpton and Ms. Moseley Braun, like many others, have chosen to subject themselves to the scrutiny of the public and to go through the long and extremely difficult process of attempting to be nominated as the Democratic candidate for President. I believe that we should all applaud their efforts in that they will bring their own personal points of view to the debates which are taking place now. I also believe that since we live in a very diverse society, they will help the other candidates to clarify their views with regard to the issues that go to the center of the lives of all Americans.
Bob Levey: To say the least, President Bush hasn't clasped the Congressional Black Caucus to his breast. In fact, he hasn't met with your group for nearly two and a half years. Any chance that this will change soon?
Elijah Cummings: I hope so. On numerous occasions the Congressional Black Caucus has requested that the President engage in a dialogue with us. Please note, the last and only time the President met with the CBC was in January, 2001. Just prior to the Iraq war the CBC requested a meeting with the President to discuss such issues as homeland security, the economy, healthcare, and many other issues. The President wrote back to us flatly stating that he did not have time to meet. It concerns us tremendously that a President who claims to be a "conservative who is compassionate" would refuse to meet with a group of legislators who represent more than 26-million people. We will continue to press on for a meeting. It is our belief that when both Houses of the Congress and the Presidency are controlled by Republicans, we have no choice but to engage in dialogue with leaders such as President Bush. Please note that I have met with Senate Majority Leader Frist and the CBC is planning to meet with Speaker Hastert.
Bob Levey: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) is the senior member of the Black Caucus. He was there on the barricades with Martin Luther King. He knows what the struggles of the 1960s were about. But the rest of your members are younger--some of them quite a bit younger. Does that mean that they don't understand black life in America today as fully as Rep. Lewis does?
Elijah Cummings: Please note that many of our Members are older than Rep. John Lewis. Representatives Conyers, Rangel, Carson, Townes, Owens, Clyburn, Hastings, Johnson, and Ballance are all about the same age or older than Rep. Lewis. Many of our younger Members have also experienced some very difficult times. Therefore we all share our experiences and work together to strengthen each other and thus strengthen the CBC.
Mt. Rainier MD: Rep. Cummings, I am disappointed that Pres. Bush has turned legitimate opposition into 'class warfare' and 'lack of patriotism'. Who is calling him on this? Why is it class warfare to insist that those who are BEST off should pay a commensurate amount of taxes - especially since these are the people for whom tax loopholes and tax shelters are designed? If he wants to money into the economy, he needs to give it to poor people who will spend it immediately per force.
Elijah Cummings: I agree. It is the Congressional Black Caucus which has consistently raised its voice against the efforts of the President. It is our belief that we can not give huge tax cuts to the richest of the rich, spend large amounts of money for war and homeland security, while suffering one of the greatest economic downturns in our nation's history and provide for the many hard-working Americans who are simply trying to live from day to day. Therefore the CBC is committed to standing up for those things that go to the center of people's lives. I have often said that 100 years ago very few of us were here, and 100 years from now very few of us will be here. The question is, what will we do while we are here?
Bob Levey: Your comments, please, about vouchers and public schools. Washington's mayor, Anthony Williams, and its school board president, Peggy Cafritz--both African-American--have recently come out in favor of vouchers. Will the Congressional Black Caucus soon do the same?
Elijah Cummings: No. It is our view that we need to fully fund our public schools. There are schools in my district where 8th grade honor students are still reading from books in which Jimmy Carter is President. There are many students in my district who never have an opportunity to look through the lens of a microscope before graduating from high school. There are also schools in my district which have one computer for every 100 students. Our nation's first commitment must be to our public school systems. When it came to "No Child Left Behind", the President and the Republican leadership sadly failed to fully fund this proposition. On the other hand, they are offering to provide millions of dollars for vouchers to children in the D.C. Public School System. During a recent hearing on this issue, some of my Republican colleagues made their intentions very clear when they stated that the D.C. voucher program would be a pilot-type program that would eventually be used all around the country. When the day comes that every school is one that every parent would be pleased to have their child attend that will be the day when the discussion about vouchers will probably end. Unfortunately, that day has not come.
Arlington, VA: What are the top priorities on CBC's list?
Elijah Cummings: In the area of health, we believe that we must have universal healthcare. As to education, we are promoting Congressman Fattah's (D-PA) bill entitled "The Student Bill of Rights" which calls for equalizing funding for school districts throughout the nation. When it comes to the economy we believe that we must have a stimulus package that truly helps hard-working middle class and lower income people. We also are of the opinion that more must be done to help small businesses which provide a large number of jobs. Finally, in the area of civil rights we have spent much of our efforts trying to make sure that fair judges are appointed to the federal courts and we will continue to be very vigilant with regards to Affirmative Action cases before our courts.
Bob Levey: Many thanks to Rep. Elijah Cummings. Be sure to join us again a week from today for another edition of "Levey Live." Our show runs from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time every Tuesday.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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