Senate Democrats Debate Need For ‘Black Agenda’

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The sole Democratic African-American senator cast doubt on the need for a "black agenda" from the president and on its chances of passage in Congress during a Democratic forum with largely African-American reporters Wednesday. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The sole Democratic African-American senator cast doubt on the need for a “black agenda” from the president and on its chances of passage in Congress during a Democratic forum with largely African-American reporters Wednesday. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The sole Democratic African-American senator cast doubt on the need for a “black agenda” from the president and on its chances of passage in Congress during a Democratic forum with largely African-American reporters Wednesday.

Massachusetts Sen. William “Mo” Cowan said the issues that black Americans are concerned about are the same as those causing white Americans concern, although to different degrees.

“I think he has to stick with the agenda and what he thinks is going to move the country forward,” Cowan said referring to President Barack Obama. Cowan is temporarily filing the seat vacated by John Kerry who is now secretary of state. Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina also is African-American.

Since his election in 2008 as the first black president, Obama has been hounded by questions about how well his administration has addressed the needs of the black community.

He has had some vocal detractors but also supporters, like Cowan.

Cowan and other senators participating in the forum organized by the Democratic Steering Outreach Committee, agreed that if Obama had sent a package of legislation as a “black agenda,” its chance for passage would be slim.

“It would not be dead on arrival in the Senate. It would be dead on arrival in the House,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

On the other hand, Obama has had some pieces of legislation that could positively impact black Americans, such as the Affordable Care Act intended to provide access to affordable health care, Cowan said.

“I think once we come to grips with our budgetary situation and dealing with those realities, getting out of this sequester nonsense, it will go a long way to improve not just the lives of black Americans, but all Americans,” Cowan said.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said entrepreneurship, education and unemployment in the black community, whether called part of the black or American agenda, do deserve more attention.

Separately on Thursday, the Urban Institute issued a report revisiting issues raised in a landmark 1965 report that became known as the Moynihan report, named for then-Assistant Labor Secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The report focused on the roots of poverty in black America and blamed the growth of single-mother families, causing controversy.

The study notes the black community still is struggling with the same problems of joblessness and poverty.

Unlike Moynihan, the Urban Institute study said the issues faced by black Americans cannot be solved only by raising more children in two-parent families. Instead, broader strategies are needed to address criminal justice policies, residential segregation and concentrated poverty, the state of public schools in black communities and lingering discrimination.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Congress needs to be prepared “to act legislatively to deal with the likely consequences of a federal government that will be more reined in” should the Supreme Court strike down protections against discrimination in the Voting Rights Act and prohibit colleges from considering race in admissions.

“There is, in my view a black agenda because there is a very real experience of ongoing discrimination going on in this country,” Coons said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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