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Democrats Forcing GOP’s Hand on Black Farmers, Native American Land Trust Settlements

In addition to everything else the Senate is up to next week, they’re going to try and shoehorn in a unanimous consent request to once and for all approve the black farmers and Native American settlements, known as Pigford and Cobell, in a standalone vote on Monday.

On a conference call with reporters Friday, John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, said the Senate will have a unanimous consent vote on a stand-alone bill authorizing funds for the settlements.

One resolves black farmers’ discrimination claims against the Agriculture Department while the other resolves Native Americans’ claims against the federal government for misuse of tribal land trust accounts, known as the Cobell settlement. The total price tag for both settlements is $4.6 billion over ten years.

“We see it as a last-ditch effort here before Congress goes into recess mode,” Boyd said. The black farmers’ advocate said he was frustrated by the bitter partisan fighting on Capitol Hill. Funds for both settlements have already passed in the House but have been continually blocked in the Senate after they were attached to much bigger bills, like the small-business lending bill or the tax extenders bill.

The black farmers and the Native American land trust settlements have never been the focus of any of the ire of Republicans in the small business, tax extenders or war supplemental bills. They claimed to oppose them for different reasons, and those bills blew up or were stripped of extraneous measures, like Pigford and Cobell. Now the GOP can be as good as their word.

A note here that the fiscally prudent thing to do is to approve the settlements. Litigants can back out of the settlements at any time, if they continue to linger, and seek a larger award through the courts, which they’ll probably get, since the issues of systematic discrimination and theft are so clear-cut.

So Republicans have a choice: put decades of discrimination and bigotry behind them, or hold out and have the government end up paying more in the end.

We’ll see on Monday.

(A side note about how interesting it is to see these giant bills constructed, then shorn down and broken down into component parts.)

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David Dayen

David Dayen