Published June 29, 2009
A disclaimer at the end of this month's Senate resolution offering an apology for slavery deals with the touchy issue of reparations, and is causing some dissension among House Democrats that may prevent the two chambers from coming together on the measure.
The disclaimer says: "Nothing in this resolution (A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or (B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States."
That means the resolution cannot be used by descendants of slaves to sue the government for reparations or payments to compensate for slavery.
The language has irritated some members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
"I would not want to have any language in place that would deny anyone, any citizen, the right to address a grievance," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.
"I feel that some method other than just an apology should be made. People should be made whole," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said.
But other House Democrats, including Rep. Steve Cohen -- a white congressman from a majority black district in Tennessee who sponsored the House version -- say they don't have a problem with the Senate disclaimer.
"I think it's just legal clarity that this doesn't provide a basis for reparations and the resolution we passed in the House, though it didn't have that provision, was not passed as a basis for reparations either," he said.
President Obama is not pressing for reparations language either. He said during the campaign that reparations are best paid in "good schools in the inner city" and jobs for the unemployed.
At this point, the two apology resolutions are just that -- two separate resolutions. Democrats control both chambers, but the House does not seem eager to take up the Senate's version.
The Senate version expressed regret for what it called the "the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws."