The House approved settlements today for black farmers whom the federal government had discriminated against in the past. In the debate beforehand, however, Rep. Steve King compared this to "slavery reparations" from the "very, very urban" Barack Obama.
The Senate last week finally approved the multi-billion-dollar funding for the Pigford II and Cobell settlements, which will allow the government to pay out claims to African-American farmers and American Indians who were discriminated against in recent decades by government agencies. Now, the House — which has passed the funding several times over — will have to approve it, probably this week. The House, in fact, was voting on procedural motions surrounding the bill as this post was written.
That means the opponents are coming out of the woodwork.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who's been one of the most vocal opponents of the Pigford settlement for black farmers, has taken to cable news and the floor of the House to speak against the settlement. King's argument is that the bulk of the Pigford II claims are fraudulent because there are fewer black farmers than claimants — a flimsy argument when you consider that many African-Americans lost their farms over the past few decades due, in part, to USDA discrimination that denied them loans — which is the point of the settlement program.
On Monday night, he suggested that President Obama, as a senator, may have been prejudiced to help the black farmers.
"Figure this out, Madame Speaker: We have a very, very urban Senator, Barack Obama, who has decided he's going to run for president, and what does he do?" King said. "He introduces legislation to create a whole new Pigford claim."
He then said the claims — which stem from discrimination against black farmers in the 1980s and 1990s — are "slavery reparations."
"We've got to stand up at some point and say, 'We are not gonna pay slavery reparations in the United States Congress,'" he said. "That war's been fought. That was over a century ago. That debt was paid for in blood and it was paid for in the blood of a lot of Yankees, especially. And there's no reparations for the blood that paid for the sin of slavery. No one's filing that claim.
The Pigford claimants, he said, "They're just filing a claim because they think they can get away with it." Standing up against the settlements, while unpopular, he said, is "a matter of justice and equity."
King's anti-Pigford cohort, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), has also spoken out. She told the House that Pigford is "pure and complete fraud" and would be a "perfect" place to start cutting the federal budget.
Right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart, who famously got USDA appointee and Pigford claimant Shirley Sherrod fired from her job earlier this year after posting a highly-edited video, has joined the fray, criticizing the settlement because it's funded, in part, from a surplus in the Women Infants Children food stamp program.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack insisted to reporters yesterday that no one will see a WIC benefits cut because of the settlement, saying there's been a "slight decrease" in the number of people receiving benefits and, therefore, a surplus.
Late update: A USDA spokesman reached out to counter King's claims, saying, "These accusations are nothing more than an attempt to derail an effort to provide long-overdue compensation to thousands of farmers who were discriminated against over several decades."
"Current census numbers on black farmers are not the proper guide for the number of claimants, and certainly no basis for allegations of fraud. Out of the 15,000 claims processed under Pigford I, the FBI determined that only 3 claims were fraudulent, and this Administration is committed to ensuring that the new claims process has integrity and provides justice to those who have suffered discrimination."