WASHINGTON -- A coalition of black leaders, holding an emergency meeting to discuss concerns over the legislative agenda of the incoming GOP leadership in Congress, vowed yesterday to fight attempts to gut programs that help African-Americans.
"We've come too far, marched too long, prayed too hard, wept too bitterly and died too young to let anybody turn back the clock on our journey to full citizenship and acceptance in this country," said the Rev. Joseph P. Lowery, chairman of the Black Leadership Forum.
Mr. Lowery, who is also president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spent the past two days huddled with leaders of major black organizations in search of an alternative to the GOP's "Contract with America," which calls for tax and budget cuts.
Black leaders fear that the Republicans, who gained control of Congress, in part, because of heavy support from white men, will attempt to cut social programs that disproportionately affect African-Americans and disadvantaged groups.
Furthermore, they expect renewed efforts in Congress and the courts to roll back civil rights advances, such as the creation of minority voting districts and affirmative action programs.
Recently a group in California began gathering support for a ballot initiative that would bar affirmative action programs.
"An ominous shadow is creeping across the nation," said Mr. Lowery.
The response from the black leaders has taken the form of what is called "Covenant for America's Future," which includes recommendations on issues such as welfare reform, balancing the budget and fighting crime.
The covenant states that all legislative proposals should protect civil rights and ensure existence of a social safety net.
While the leaders said the GOP's call for a balanced budget was a "praiseworthy objective," they warned that the cuts required to make that possible may not be fair.
"You don't balance the budget on the backs of the poor," said Mr. Lowery.
The leaders said Congress should look at scaling back some business benefits such as the oil depletion allowance, a tax break for oil and gas producers, before making deep cuts in social programs.
While the document approved by black leaders states support for changes in the welfare system, it says that any new policy "must strive for deliberate inclusion," encourage work, promote good parenthood and protect the interests of children.
The House GOP welfare plan would require recipients to work after two years and would deny benefits to legal immigrants and single mothers under the age of 18 and their children.
The black leaders' covenant endorses the crime bill approved last summer by Congress and warns against efforts promised by Republicans next year to cut money slated for prevention and rehabilitation programs.