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.
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." For decades, minority farmers have complained of being shut out by local Agriculture offices, well after the days of blatant segregation. African-Americans, for example, complained that loan committees across the rural South were dominated by white "good ol' boys" networks that gave the vast majority of loans and disaster aid to whites while offering scraps to blacks.
Sherrod herself was a claimant in a case against the department. She had been part of a cooperative that won a $13 million settlement just last year.
|Protest at the Agriculture Department|
|Senator Harry Reid|
|Senator Mitch McConnell|
Boyd said the farmers he works with don't care about the machinations of Congress. All they see is a dysfunctional body that can't get a broadly supported goal accomplished. The farmers don't have the lobbyists and fat campaign contributions that get lawmakers' attention, he said.