Lone senator blocks promised settlement to black farmers
For the ninth time, the U.S. Senate has denied funding for a settlement with black and Native American farmers who faced decades of discrimination in government loan programs.
Last week, following a protest by farmers in Washington, Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) introduced legislation to provide the needed $1.15 billion in funding. After negotiations between the Democratic and Republican leadership, the measure was set to be passed by unanimous consent.
But U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) broke with his party's leadership and objected to the funding. Coburn also objected to the bill when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered it by consent back in May.
"My concern is that we ought to make sure we pay people who were discriminated against but we shouldn't be paying people who weren't," Coburn said.
In recent days, Republicans in the House, which already approved the settlement money, have alleged that the settlement is marred by fraud and called for an investigation. On Wednesday, Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Steve King (R-Iowa) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) held a press conference at which they declared that many of the claimants are not minority farmers.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "should put the brakes on this. He should not be asking the Congress to sweep money into this," Goodlatte said.
John Boyd, a Virginia farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association, blasted Coburn's actions and the fraud charges.
"At the end of the day, this was a fully paid-for settlement with ample safeguards including the authority of the court and a court-appointed neutral to adjudicate the claims," Boyd said. "We call on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to live up to the promises and explain to black farmers why they will have to continue to wait."