This was a vote on final passage of legislation approving settlements in discrimination lawsuits brought against the federal government by African American and Native American farmers. The bill also extended for six months the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides cash assistance to America’s poorest families. This bill had already passed the Senate. Thus, House passage cleared the measure for President Obama’s signature.
The bill provided $1.15 billion to compensate African American farmers who had brought a class action lawsuit against the Agriculture Department for discrimination. In addition, the measure provided $3.4 billion to settle the class action lawsuit brought against the Interior Department by Native American farmers.
Rep Nick Rahall (D-WV) urged support for the bill: “…Today, we are considering a measure which will settle over a combined century of litigation. The bill will bring to closure some shameful acts undertaken by the United States, and it will allow several communities to move forward in rebuilding their communities and their trust in the United States.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) argued: “Today the House has an opportunity to bring an end to two historic injustices. We can do so by approving the settlement in the Pigford [the lawsuit brought against the government by African American farmers] and Cobell class action lawsuits [the lawsuit brought by Native Americans], helping to make amends to African American farmers and more than 300,000 Native Americans….Few people in this Nation have been treated as poorly by their Nation as have African Americans and Native Americans. This was a continuing injustice that should have been addressed decades ago and, indeed, of course, should not have happened.”
Rep. Tom McClintock urged opposition to the bill, arguing it was unfair to American taxpayers: “…There is no doubt that Americans of African descent and Native Americans have suffered grave injustices over the years at the hands of this government, and they deserve justice--no more and no less; but if we are excessive in our zeal to do justice to one group, we end up necessarily doing injustice to others. That is the concern that is raised in this bill. Legal settlements--and that is what this bill purports to be--should be settled on legal grounds, but there is a serious question… as to whether these settlements are in the interest of justice or in the interest of all the people of our land.”
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) argued the settlement with black farmers was a back-door attempt to pass slavery reparations legislation: “…We know…[that what] started out to be in the aftermath of the Civil War, a promise from the federal government that there would be 40 acres for African Americans, newly freed slaves, provided by the federal government, by either federally owned land or southern land that had been confiscated by the Union, and there would be a rented mule to go along with that, or a loaned mule. That has been the promise of slavery reparations. Of course, it didn't come to pass….Pigford…allowed for those who had a legitimate claim of discrimination to file that claim. Many who didn't have legitimate claims also filed claims….this has become a modern-day reparations component, and it's wrong.”
The House passed this bill by a vote of 256-152. 240 Democrats and 16 Republicans voted “yea.” 149 Republicans and 3 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House passed legislation approving settlements in discrimination lawsuits brought against the federal government by African American and Native American farmers, and extending a cash assistance program for poor families for 6 months.