By Richard Simon
With her party firmly in power, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) didn't think enough attention was being paid to the economic troubles of minorities. So she did what she's often done during her long political career: She got in her colleagues' faces.
Waters recently led a boycott by black lawmakers of a House committee vote on a Wall Street regulatory overhaul bill -- a priority of President Obama's.
"They got the message," Waters said.
The bill, approved by the House on Friday with Waters' support, included a number of measures she had sought: $3 billion in low-interest loans for unemployed homeowners facing foreclosure, $1 billion to help communities hit hard by foreclosures buy and renovate abandoned properties, and a provision to create an "office of minority and women inclusion" at the Treasury Department and other federal agencies.
The $1 billion to fix up foreclosed homes comes on top of $6 billion already approved in legislation championed by Waters -- who said that the spending would create jobs. Republicans have attacked the spending as a bailout for lenders and speculators.
Waters has been among the most outspoken members of the Congressional Black Caucus in pressing the Obama administration and Democratic leaders to do more about the nearly 16% unemployment rate among African Americans.
"Since last September, we have continuously voted for bailouts and reform for the very institutions that created this devastation without properly protecting the African American and minority communities or small businesses," she said recently, adding: "That stops today."
On Friday, Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, joined party leaders at a Capitol Hill news conference to celebrate the bill's passage.
"If she is for you, you don't mind facing a formidable army," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), a fellow black caucus member, said of Waters on Friday. "If she is against you, she is the army."
Waters has avoided direct criticism of Obama, a former caucus member, although she hasn't been reluctant to break from the president -- opposing his troop buildup in Afghanistan, for example.
Confrontation is hardly anything new to Waters.
The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation of Waters, stemming from her husband's ties to a bank that received federal bailout funds. While she helped arrange a meeting between representatives of that bank -- as well as other minority-owned financial institutions -- and Treasury officials, Waters has defended her efforts as in keeping with her work to promote opportunity for minority-owned businesses and lending in underserved communities
And earlier this year, she had a heated argument on the House floor with the usually feared House Appropriations Committee chairman over his refusal to grant her $1-million request for a job-training facility simply because of its name -- the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center. Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) is prohibiting funding for earmarks named after sitting lawmakers.