Black farmers, due $1.2 billion for a legacy of discrimination by the Agriculture Department, suffered a new and disheartening setback this week, despite the national spotlight provided by the quickly disavowed firing of a black department worker.
The Senate refused again to pay the bill.
Opponents say it's a question of where the money would come from, and that's a a major issue with an election nearing and voters up in arms about federal spending.
Late Thursday, the Senate stripped $1.2 billion for the claims from an emergency spending bill, along with $3.4 billion in long-overdue funding for a settlement with American Indians who say they were swindled out of royalties by the federal government.
Even the attention the Shirley Sherrod case brought to the issue of discrimination at the Agriculture Department couldn't bring lawmakers together on a deal. Instead, Republicans and Democrats alike proclaimed their support for the funding — appeasing important constituencies — while blaming the other side for not getting anything done.
The result: Thousands of black farmers and Indian landowners will keep waiting for checks that most lawmakers agree should have been written years ago.
"If you say you support us, then, damn it, do it!" said John Boyd, a Virginia farmer and the lead organizer for the black farmers' lawsuits.
Sherrod's resignation under pressure from the Agriculture Department over her comments about race, and the subsequent White House apology, brought fresh attention to the black farmers' claims. In explaining why he acted so hastily in asking her to resign, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he and the department were keenly sensitive to the issue of discrimination and race given the agency's dismal track record on civil rights.
It's a record that Vilsack routinely describes as "sordid."
The money for both the black farmers and the Indian landowners was stripped from the Senate war-funding bill Thursday after the House had passed it earlier this month. Senate Republicans objected to a variety of other Democratic priorities as well, insisting they be paid for rather than adding to the federal deficit.
Democrats have offered a variety of proposals, including one package that included tax increases on oil companies and multinational companies. Republicans have objected, calling instead for spending cuts elsewhere.
"This is an interesting game we're playing around here," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday when asked about the black farmers' money, arguing that Republicans are simply stalling the funding.
A spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the money belongs in annual appropriations bills the Senate hasn't passed yet.
These farmers fought their asses off for this settlement and the government agreed to pay it. Its funny because I don't remember anybody looking at the deficit before we passed TARP to prop up the banking sector. But now they are using the deficit to delay payments to the folks they already agreed to pay?
I don't know how many Democrats will make this a campaign issue but I am going to make it a campaign issue for me and this blog that's for damn sure. And just as soon as I can find the names of those who voted against this funding I'm for damn sure posting them and if there is a Democrats name on their I am going to let them know my displeasure early and often and their info will be going up as well.
That these people were discriminated against is a shameful part of our history. That we are now refusing to pay them what we owe to them is criminal!!!