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Jesse Jr. Claims 'Institutional Bias' in Debt Ceiling Debate

Black America Web | 7/29/2011, 9:44 p.m.
Jesse Jackson Jr. stopped short of shouting racism. /AP Photo

Rep. Jesse Jackson,Jr. recently addressed the invisible elephant in the room - sort of - as to why President Barack Obama is having such a hard time getting Congress to grant him an increase in the federal debt ceiling.

The nation's first black president is the victim of "institutional bias" because he hails from the south side of Chicago, Jackson said.

"And there is something else more fundamental, Mr. Speaker, that's going on here," Jackson (D-Ill) said during a floor debate on House Speaker John Boehner's bill to cut federal spending and raise the debt ceiling, a bill that Obama and congressional Democrats strongly opposed.

"This president is being treated differently than other presidents. No other president has been stook up, shook-down or held hostage as president of the United States over this debt vote," Jackson continued. "This fundamentally unfair, Mr. Speaker, to change the rules in the middle of the game."

Jackson didn't use the R-word. Instead, he chalked up Obama's debt ceiling problems to "institutional bias." In a written statement Jackson said "Treating President Obama differently than all past presidents reflects an 'institutional bias' against the Southside of Chicago!"

"Rep. Joe Wilson reflected the same institutional bias when, in an unprecedented manner, he called President Obama 'a liar' in the middle of his State of the Union address," Jackson wrote. "Speaker John Boehner reflected a similar bias when he said he and the president had the same responsibility - equating his job as Speaker of the House (a legislative function) with the job of President of the United States (an executive function)."

He continued: "Doubting the birthplace of Barack Obama birthplace, doubting his Christian faith and experience, calling him a Muslim and a socialist reflects this same institutional bias. The Republican's proposed Balance Budget Amendment (BBA) reflects a similar institutional bias - the only other place there's a BBA is in the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. With a BBA, the Southside of Chicago can never be made equal to the Northside of Chicago."

Jackson's comments reflect what many black people across the country are saying: That race is playing a role in the high-stakes showdown that could lead to the United States defaulting on its loan obligations, which could send nervous domestic and international financial markets spiraling.

Georgetown University professor and talk radio show host Michael Eric Dyson summed up black sentiment on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" earlier this month when he pointed out that 130 Republicans in Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling under former President George W. Bush.

"Is there any real reason to believe here, Ed, that one of the reasons Congress will not vote to put the economy in the black is because the economy is in the hands of the black?" Dyson asked host Ed Schultz.

As the congressional stalemate over the debt ceiling raged on, Jackson said Obama should act differently from other presidents and invoke an obscure provision in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and raise the ceiling by himself.

Added after the Civil War to make sure that former Confederate states wouldn't avoid helping to pay for debts incurred during the war by Union states, Section Four of the 14th Amendment says that "the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law ... shall not be questioned."

"Use of the 14th Amendment is appropriate and justified when the current advocates of states' rights are again asserting themselves," Jackson wrote in his statement.

Jackson isn't alone. House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said invoking the 14th Amendment "will bring calm to the American people, and will bring needed stability to our financial markets."

But White House officials have repeatedly poured cold water on the idea.

"There are no off-ramps," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. "There's no way around this. There's no escape."

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