The House of Representatives rejected a last-minute Republican-sponsored attempt Thursday to block the federal government from paying a settlement it reached with black farmers who had been discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture over several years.
The amendment in the agriculture appropriations bill, introduced late Wednesday by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), apparently caught some members of the Congressional Black Caucus by surprise Thursday when it was included in a series of votes taken before lawmakers departed for the weekend.
CBC members furiously fanned about the House chamber urging fellow lawmakers to vote against the measure. In the end, the amendment failed on a 155-262 vote. All 155 yes votes came from Republicans. Seventy-eight Republicans joined 184 Democrats to defeat King’s measure. Nine Democrats and six Republicans failed to vote.
“The King Amendment would have prohibited the use of funds to make payments to black farmers relating to the final settlement of claims from Pigford v. Glickman,” Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said, referring to the settlement case’s legal title. “For years, black farmers have faced discrimination – not only from businesses, but from the very government that was meant to protect them. Not on our watch. We will not let that happen again.”
“It is time that Republicans think of more meaningful ways to reduce the deficit, but not on the backs of hardworking farmers or any other group of hardworking Americans,” Cleaver continued.
John Boyd, founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, said the amendment represented business as usual from King, a conservative Republican who has questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship.
“It’s just more bad stuff out there,” Boyd said. “More of the same from King. He really wants to kill it, him and (Rep.) Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). He needs to find something else to do.”
Several CBC members also weren’t amused by King’s amendment.
“It’s racism, it is,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) told reporters as the vote was going on. “It’s racism.”
A slightly cooler Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said CBC members would “jump off the World Trade Center to vote against this.”
Obama signed a bill last December approving a $1.2 billion settlement to black and Native American farmers. The measure was the second settlement, created for people who were denied payments in the earlier settlement because they missed deadlines for filing. Combined, the two agreements come to $4.6 billion.
King said he introduced his amendment because he and other conservatives believe that the black farmers settlement is riddled with fraud and amounts to a multi-billion payout by the nation’s first black president to his black supporters.
“In the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress limited taxpayers’ exposure to the Pigford II settlement program at $100 million, a figure that was deemed sufficient to resolve the racial discrimination claims leveled against the United States Department of Agriculture by black farmers,” King said Wednesday. “Since that time, a lame-duck Democratic Congress agreed to President Obama’s request to pump an additional $1.15 billion into the Pigford II settlement program, doing so even though the program is rife with credible allegations of massive fraud that have not been fully investigated.”
“I believe that an investigation into the program will reveal that the majority of claims that have been filed are fraudulent, and Congress should not turn a blind eye to the real possibility that the money is being used primarily to build political goodwill for the president instead of being used to properly redress the much smaller universe of people who have actually suffered harm,” King continued. “If passed, my amendment would put the brakes on Pigford II funding, and it would prevent the Secretary of Agriculture from paying fraudulent claims one $50,000 check at a time.”
At December’s bill signing ceremony, Obama called the settlement the righting of a wrong that “closes a long and unfortunate chapter in our history.”