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Slavery reparations could carry a $17 trillion price tag

A new bill would calculate potential costs of reparations — and by Yahoo Finance estimates, these could reach as high as $17.1 trillion.

Last week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held the first hearing in a decade on H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. The bill was first introduced in 1989 by former Congressman John Conyers (D-MI). Conyers reintroduced the bill each year until his retirement in 2017 — and each year, the bill languished in Congress.

The bill’s focus was not to pass reparations, but to research the impact slavery had on black Americans and develop proposals for redress.

The subject of reparations has remained a political hot potato, with presidential candidates Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro supporting some form of reparations. But while the Democratic-controlled House is willing to hear the bill, it seems likely that a bill on reparations will die in the Senate where Republicans have a majority. When asked about the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he opposed the measure, given that “not one of us currently living are responsible” for slavery.

McConnell continued, adding: “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African-American president.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), a sponsor of H.R. 40 — named after the 40 acres and a mule promised to freed slaves — responded to McConnell’s comments in a statement to Yahoo Finance.

“Payments are not the focus of H.R. 40,” the congresswoman said. “Knowledge is the focus of H.R. 40.”

“The Majority Leader may want to deny this bill a hearing, but he cannot deny the horror and the denial of freedom that human bondage represents,” she said. “The Majority Leader can’t deny the free labor that slavery brought; he can’t deny the people who died in transit; and he can’t deny that this is the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the slave trade.”

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