Can the House of Representatives Work Through Differences to Advance Racial Equity?

Republicans narrowly won control of the House of Representatives in the 2022 midterm elections, but despite fears over what that may mean for progressive causes, many efforts that impact racial equity have bipartisan support. 

During a Joint Center for Justice webinar with U.S. Representative Terri A. Sewell as part of the Center’s “Voice at the Table” series, the Congresswoman from Alabama’s 7th District highlighted bipartisan efforts that could advance racial equity as well as economic efforts that might be at a standstill with a Republican-majority House.

Rep. Terri A. Sewell

Sewell is in her sixth term and was one of the first women elected to Congress from Alabama. She’s the first Black woman to serve in the Alabama Congressional delegation and she serves on the Ways and Means Committee, which is the House of Representatives’ chief tax-writing committee. 

Sewell started out by saying that racial equity has been a hallmark of the Biden Administration since Day One and that her job remains the same, regardless of who holds the majority. 

“When I think about racial equity in Ways and Means, I think about all of the great work that my co-chairs and I, Congressman Steven Horsford and Congressman Jimmy Gomez, all three of us, were chosen by the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal, to literally look through the prism of race equity for all of the legislation that comes through Ways and Means,” she said. 

“In respect to who is in charge of Congress or the House or even my committee, my job stays the same and that is to try to make sure that in all things that I’m doing, I’m prioritizing the communities that I serve, which is a majority minority community, African American, and it has been my priority and duty to the Black communities that I represent to remain a vocal member of the House Ways and Means Committee.” 

Congresswoman Sewell added that her job is to advocate for health equity when it comes to health disparities and economic incentives. The Ways and Means Committee helped craft the American Rescue Plan, which included an earned income tax credit and a child tax credit that was funded for one year but helped lift millions of Americans and children out of poverty. 

“In my district of Alabama alone, we were able to help 76,000 families,” she said. “I know those are really good programs that we hope to expand and extend. It will obviously be harder under Republican rule, but I do believe we’ve laid the groundwork with our Republican colleagues to keep top of mind certain advances that have been made.” 

One thing she thinks is here to stay is telehealth and that the reimbursement for it will be extended in working with Republicans. For people to have access to telehealth, she anticipates broadband will also be increased and “used to close the access gap.”

“My Republican colleagues, while they may not be focused on race equity, they are focused on the difference between rural and urban areas,” she said. “I represent a majority minority rural district.”

Sewell represents the town of Selma, which has 19,000 people and is the Queen City of nine other communities surrounding it. She said she has been able to work with her Republican colleagues to tackle health disparities and access to workforce issues. 

“I think all of us would agree we need more internal medicine physicians in rural communities and underserved rural communities and working with my GME bill, we have bipartisan support, we’ve been able to get more slots for residency programs under both the Trump Administration and the Biden Administration,” she said. 

While there’s going to be some overlap, there could be a stall in the 15% global minimum tax initiative. She said at a meeting in Spain, there was some concern across the European Union that Republicans will stall these efforts. A Republican-majority House could also press the Biden Administration to do more trade negotiations. 

Sewell said it’s likely that they will also “double-down on the enforcement of IRS agents and implementation of that part of the Inflation Reduction Act.”

Despite Republicans having control of the House, Democrats will “continue to extend an olive branch when it comes to racial and equity initiatives.” 

“In fact, Chairman Neal held a first-ever full committee meeting on racial equity initiatives in Ways and Means, in particular, and we heard our Republican colleagues say they wanted to be a part of that and to help in that particular area,” she said. “We’ll call them to task on that and hope that they will allow us to continue to work on those measures.”