Coburn objects to black and Native American farmer settlements

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) stopped a Senate hotline Friday for funds to compensate black and Native American farmers discriminated against by the Agriculture Department (USDA).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attempted to attach the settlement funds to the amendment to a $5.1 billion Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster assistance bill. He asked for unanimous consent from the Senate to do so but was denied by Coburn.

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That led to dueling press releases between the senators, who have often squabbled over government spending and Senate procedure.

Reid blamed Republicans for denying much-needed funds to farmers who have been discriminated against by USDA.

“There is no excuse for Republicans to continue to employ these partisan delay tactics — in this case, as in so many others, they are only hurting those who were wronged and are fighting for what is rightfully theirs,” Reid said in a statement. “My view on this is simple: justice delayed is justice denied.”

Reid also said he would work to resolve USDA discrimination claims by Hispanic and female farmers.

Coburn countered that the Senate leader tried to take advantage of the slow Friday by asking for unanimous consent on the settlement funds, knowing the majority of senators were out of town, and not sending the bill back to committee. Instead, Reid should bring up the legislation when the full Senate can debate it, Coburn said.

“By dropping a racially charged measure into a $5.1 billion disaster bill at the last minute, he was essentially threatening senators to give their immediate consent or risk being demonized,” Coburn said in a statement. “I am not intimidated by the majority leader’s gambit, and I’m confident the voters will sort who is playing partisan politics in November.”

Coburn also said the settlement funds were not offset by budget cuts elsewhere. If so, that means Democrats are willing to waive pay-go rules and give the compensation claims emergency status.

That has been a sticking point in the past with Democrats in both the House and Senate — as well as the Obama administration — who are wary of adding to the national deficit. In turn, they have been searching for a budget offset for the settlement funds.

In a letter to Reid last week, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said emergency status should be granted at least to funds for the black farmers’ settlement.

Lincoln released a statement Friday that she would continue to work to find the funds to resolve USDA discrimination claims.