By Liloni De Gruy
With budget problems roiling both the state and federal government, Californians can expect bigger cuts to education and health and human services, according to Rep. Karen Bass. The first-term congresswoman hosted a media roundtable at her Wilshire Boulevard office on Monday afternoon, and in a candid discussion with journalists, she touched on the recent debt ceiling compromise, redistricting, racism and President Obama's prospects in 2012.
How have you dealt with the criticism you received for voting in favor of the debt ceiling compromise?
I didn't mind taking the bullet or the criticism for voting for the deal, because I thought it was important to support the president. I don't take issue with my colleagues who voted against it. I voted against the continuing resolution earlier this year because the stakes were not quite as high for the president over that as they were this time over the debt ceiling.
How will the debt ceiling compromise impact the state of California?
The bottom line with this deal, and part of this is what California is used to. We are so shell-shocked from the budgets here that when you hear a budget with a trillion dollars in cuts that would freak us out here because we know we are going to feel those cuts tomorrow. The cuts actually haven't been defined. So the process in Washington is that the dollar number is there, then it goes through the appropriation process and the cuts are actually made specific. What we do know, though, is that education is liable to take the biggest hit because the cuts are in discretionary spending. So, people will feel the cuts to K-12 and higher education. But we won't know exactly what they will be probably for another month because the deadline for the budget is September 30. We have to have a new federal budget by October 1. Bottom line -- education will probably be hit. We don't know how the other cuts will come down, but given the ideology of who's in charge, we can assume the cuts are going to come down in health and human services because that is what this group doesn't believe in. They right now are already upset by the trigger that was put in place, and the trigger says that they have to come up with about $1.2 trillion in additional cuts by the end of the year. And if they don't agree to the additional cuts, then this trigger goes into place where there are 50/50 cuts in defense and health and human services. The Republicans are already bucking that; they want to know what those defense cuts are going to be. They don't care about the others, they just care about the defense cuts. It's not that the Republicans don't want to spend money -- they just want to spend it on certain things.
There seems to be this overwhelming message from the Republican party that they believe it is their mission to take back America. What are your thoughts?
It's a racist message. I view it as absolute racism. Take the country back from who? From the Black man sitting in the White House. I think it's quite clear. Then when you have the messengers delivering it, it gets slightly confused, but I don't think much when you have Allen West and Tim Scott, the two African-American Republicans, sending the same message. For the most part, I think everybody is clear and I think everybody is clear in the Democratic Caucus about it. Maybe there is a handful of people who don't see it as racist, but I think most people do. It's tough if it's an African-American up saying it's racist, because then you are just discredited as playing the race card, if you do it in mainstream media. Could you imagine the speaker not returning the president's call? That is just so disrespectful, the speaker not attending state dinners that the president invited him to. I mean, the level of disrespect. It's tough when I sit in the Democratic Caucus and hear him being attacked. When [Vice President Joe] Biden was in the room, one of my colleagues got up and said that they wished he was president. Then you have attacks coming from the right.
What are the president's prospects of being re-elected?
I think the president has an excellent chance of getting re-elected and I think [Texas Gov. Rick] Perry entering just upped it...
Both the state and the federal government are facing a horrendous budget crisis. Is there light at the end of this tunnel?
There will eventually be, but I don't think there is anytime soon.
There has been a huge debate over how the redistricting maps for California have been formed. How will they impact African-American representation?
There is good news and there is definitely bad news. There was definitely an effort to eliminate the African-American representation. There is no question about that. The good news is that I think the African-American representation is going to be retained on every level -- Senate, Assembly and Congress. But, I do think that it is compromised. If you look at some of the districts, for example [Rep.] Maxine Waters' district, if you look at Laura Richardson's district, it was kind of cut in half, with half going to Long Beach and extending to Orange County, reducing the African-American population to eight percent, and then the other half of the African-American voting representation is stronger, but it included San Pedro. They eliminated Janice Hahn's district. As for Waters, they put Torrance in her district and now there is this organized Tea Party effort that is just outright racist and is essentially saying "We don't want to be represented by those people." What they did to me was give me back my old Assembly district, and they just extended it to USC. I came out fine, but as far as I am concerned it's not over. They are [expected] to finalize it today and then everybody is going to sue.