Black Leaders Push Agenda

WASHINGTON (AP) — Black lawmakers say they will push their agenda of changing election laws and improving education and health care, although they admit national priorities have changed since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The 38-member Congressional Black Caucus has gathered this week, with constituents from around the country, for its annual policy weekend despite the attacks.

Some meetings planned for the nation's capital, including this weekend's scheduled World Bank-IMF talks, have been canceled.

``Our nation has sacrificed too much already due to the reckless acts of cowards. We will boldly gather to discuss our nation's most serious issues,'' Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the caucus chairwoman, said Wednesday.

The caucus has altered its agenda to discuss the attacks. Newly scheduled sessions include a town hall-type meeting on how the tragedy has affected blacks as well as forums on transportation problems and how to help children contend with stress and horror.

Election overhaul remains the mainstay of the caucus' agenda, as it has since the end of the presidential election gave President Bush a narrow victory in Florida to defeat Al Gore. Even so, most caucus members admit the issue is getting less priority in Congress.

``Election reform doesn't hold much relevance if our way of life and the fundamental guarantees of freedom and choice are abrogated by what the terrorists were able to do,'' said Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn.

He said other issues, such as prescription drug coverage for older Americans and Medicare overhaul, probably will be put on hold. ``It's almost like saying you need a car to go to work, but you've lost your job,'' Ford said. ``We've got to get the job back first.''

In a nod to a former ally, President Clinton will receive the Chairman's Award at Saturday night's banquet. President Bush was not invited.

All members of the Congressional Black Caucus are Democrats. The only black Republican member of Congress, Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, has not joined.

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