Yesterday, before the Senate’s pre-election adjournment, Senate Democrats attempted to pass legislation funding a pair of multi-billion dollar lawsuit settlements with black farmers and Native Americans. The settlements were part of “a discrimination suit filed by black farmers against the Agriculture Department” and “a case involving mismanagement of trust funds that Indian tribes filed against the Interior Department.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had worked out some differences on the legislation with Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and was ready to pass the bill by unanimous consent. But then along came Sen. Tom “Dr. No” Coburn (R-OK) who objected to the motion to approve the bill.
In May, Coburn blocked the same bill, objecting to the fact that the authorized payments weren’t offset with budget cuts elsewhere. This time, the bill was fully offset, but still Coburn objected. “We changed the offsets to address the concerns of Senators Grassley and Kyl in an effort to try to pass the legislation. We also addressed the concerns of Senator Barrasso and were very close to passing the legislation before we left last night. Unfortunately at the 11th hour, Senator Coburn objected,” Reid’s Deputy Communications Director Regan Lachapelle told me in an email.
This is, of course, nothing new for Coburn, who earlier this month objected to the passage of a much-needed food safety bill, saying that he took issue with the cost. That bill was also fully offset with budget cuts elsewhere. However, Coburn is not alone in his crusade to deny payments to farmers who were discriminated against by the USDA or Native Americans whose land trusts were woefully managed.
Yesterday, a cadre of House Republicans alleged that this particular settlement process is rife with “massive and widespread fraud and abuse.” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) — who appeared alongside Tea Party-darlings and conspiracy theorists Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) — said that the Obama administration “should put the brakes on this. [Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack] should not be asking the Congress to sweep money into this.”
Even Grassley doesn’t buy that preventing fraudulent settlement payments and having the funding move forward are mutually exclusive. “People who aren’t entitled to it shouldn’t get it, and that should be the Department of Agriculture’s responsibility and the court’s responsibility,” he said. But it seems that even righting past federal wrongs is too much to ask of the current Republican caucus.