As congressional leaders and the White House continue efforts to reach a compromise
on issues ranging from the expiration of tax cuts to tweaks in the U.S.-Russia START arms treaty, the House approval of the Claims Settlement Act of 2010
brought praise from President Obama and the Departments of Justice, Interior and Agriculture.
In a statement Tuesday, the president said: "I am pleased that today, the House has joined the Senate in passing the Claims Settlement Act of 2010. This important legislation will fund the agreements reached in the Pigford II lawsuit, brought by African American farmers, and the Cobell lawsuit, brought by Native Americans . . . I applaud Congress for acting in a bipartisan fashion to bring this painful chapter in our nation's history to a close." The president said he will sign the bill.
In the Pigford II class-action lawsuit, black farmers will receive a $1.15 billion settlement, with the average payment of $50,000. The Department of Agriculture admitted to discriminating against the farmers in the awarding of loans and other benefits.
The Cobell lawsuit, resolved with a $3.4 billion agreement, has been in the courts for 14 years. It was brought by Native Americans contending mismanagement of Indian trust accounts and resources.
Obama called the legislation, which also settles four separate water-rights suits made by Native American tribes, "a significant step forward in addressing the water needs of Indian Country. Yet, while today's vote demonstrates important progress, we must remember that much work remains to be done. And my administration will continue our efforts to resolve claims of past discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers and others in a fair and timely manner."
Calling the settlements "truly historic," Attorney General Eric Holder said they offer a new relationship "between many deserving Americans and the federal agencies that play an important role in their lives."
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said Congress' approval of the Cobell settlement and the four Indian water-rights settlements "responsibly address long-standing injustices and represent a major step forward in President Obama's agenda to empower tribal governments, fulfill our trust responsibilities to tribal members and help tribal leaders build safer, stronger, healthier and more prosperous communities."
Finally, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the settlements helps "right the wrongs in USDA's past." He said that the bill that passed the Senate and House includes strong protections against waste, fraud, and abuse to ensure integrity of the claims process. "Today's vote will help the Department of Agriculture move beyond this sad chapter in history."