This is kind of strange. I jumped on a White House conference call with Barbara Lee (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, yesterday. The topic was the youth summer job program, which the House has passed but the Senate has yet to take up. I get an advisory in my inbox that there’s another call with Lee today, where she’ll be joined by Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) and Biden economic advisor Jared Bernstein.

What’s going on?

I assume that the White House is signaling their support for CBC priorities, after facing criticism for their inattention to urban policies and helping the catastrophic unemployment in the black community. The summer youth job program, which provides jobs and training to mostly inner-city youth across the country, has been a touchstone for the CBC. It created 300,000 short-term jobs last year when it was part of the stimulus, and the $600 million dollar proposal to extend it this year would create, according to analyst’s predictions, another 200,000. So it’s a low-cost way to provide productive work for teens (whose employment picture is perhaps the worst in the nation) and set them on a career path with real-life experience.

More than that, this is a symbolic action, backing up not only the CBC but the House. The summer job program is really the least that the Senate could do on the jobs front, and given the low cost the CBC has seized on it. They haven’t had much to call their own so far during the Obama Presidency, and they’ve made their frustrations well-known. They represent some of the most depressed districts in the country, and even though they are safe seats, it’s a matter of time before someone in the community starts calling their members ineffective at delivering anything of value. So this is a way for the White House to defuse tensions with the African-American community and provide something that CBC members can point to as a tangible achievement.

Lee expressed confidence on yesterday’s conference call that “Senator Reid is going to have the votes to pass it.” I’m not sure what vehicle the Senate would use for such a measure; perhaps the $150 billion dollar “extenders” package would include the summer jobs program when it comes out of a proposed conference committee. Senate Democrats tried to insert that program into the extenders bill last month, but couldn’t round up 60 votes for it.