Republican Congressman Steve King is railing against a proposal that sets up a process for settling the discrimination claims of black farmers who say they were denied government loans.
King says the deal amounts to “slavery reparations.” Two other prominent Iowa politicians — Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democrat Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who is now U.S. Ag Secretary — applaud the so-called Pigford Farms agreement. It won congressional approval this week. King has suggested the country’s current black president concocted the plan when he was a U.S. Senator to curry favor with black voters.
“Figure this out,” King said earlier this week during a speech on the House floor. “We have a very, very urban senator — Barack Obama — who has decided he is going to run for president and what does he do? He introduces legislation to create a whole new Pigford claim.”
The Pigford case involves black farmers who accused the U.S.D.A. of denying them government-backed loans in the 1980s and ’90s. The settlement congress approved this week sets up a process where an independent arbitrator reviews claims and decides which are legitimate.
Republican Chuck Grassley has hailed this settlement process, saying it will help prevent fraud, and Grassley helped shepherd the proposal through the senate. Fellow Republican Steve King charges that some black people who never farmed and who were never discriminated against may be able to get settlement payments.
“We’ve got to stand up at some point and say, ‘We are not going to pay slavery reparations in the United States congress.’ 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,” King said this week on the House floor. “They’re just filing a claim because they think they can get away with it because and they understand, probably appropriately, that not a lot of members of congress want to stand and fight this battle.”
Ag Secretary Vilsack says King’s comments are disappointing because there are safeguards against fraud. “There are provisions that involve a neutral, third-party arbitrator taking a look at evidence to determine whether or not there is an indication by substantial evidence or a preponderance of evidence that discrimination took place. There is the provision requiring the comptroller general to review the implementation of this settlement,” Vilsack says. “There is a requirement that the inspector general of the USDA also be engaged in connecting audits, and finally there’s the need for the court to essentially approve the final accounting of the settlement proceeds.”
Vilsack says a “bipartisan group” of senators, including Grassley, did “their level best” to make sure people who aren’t entitled to a settlement check do not get one. “I’m just disappointed that Representative King took this opportunity to suggest something for which there is absolutely no proof,” Vilsack says.