Sen. Jon Kyl On Earmarks (Part 2)
It’s a lame-duck Congress, and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the number two Senate Republican, has decided to stop START (part 1) and renege on fiscal responsibility just three days after Republicans adopted the Tea Party vow to just say no to earmarks (part 2).
John Aloysius Farrell points out that the “much-vaunted Republican ban on earmarks” lasted a whopping three days when Kyle inserted a $200 million clause into a $5+ billion bill (Claims Settlement Act of 2010, HR 4783) that passed the Senate by a voice vote last Friday. The House passed the bill in March — nine months ago.
You are to be forgiven if haven’t seen this: it doesn’t seem important enough for the MSM to have covered it; there is an AP story.
In this case, AP reports that the $200 million will “settle an Arizona Indian tribe’s water rights claim against the government.”
Kyl slipped the measure into a larger bill sought by President Barack Obama and passed by the Senate on Friday to settle claims by black farmers and American Indians against the federal government. Kyl’s office insists the measure is not an earmark, and the House didn’t deem it one when it considered a version earlier this year.
The money for the 15,000-member White Mountain Apache Tribe was one of four tribal water rights claims totaling almost $570 million that was added to the $5 billion-plus bill. Black farmers will get about $1.2 billion to settle claims that the Agriculture Department’s local offices discriminated against them in awarding loans and other aid. Another $3.4 billion goes to American Indians who say the Interior Department swindled them out of oil, gas and other royalties.
The House still has to act on the total package, and likely will after Congress reconvenes Nov. 29 for the continuation of a postelection, lame duck session.
Is this an earmark? Ummm. Yes. From What Is An Earmark:
Earmarks are funds provided by the Congress for specific projects or programs in such a manner that the allocation (a) circumvents a merit-based or competitive allocation process; (b) applies to a very limited number of individuals or entities; or (c) otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to independently manage the agency budget.
Of course the bigger story — that the Senate has finally allocated $5+ billion to settle legal claims brought about because of what appears to be systemic mismanagement — hasn’t nudged the MSM into action either.
The $200 million in Kyl’s measure would be used to construct and maintain a drinking water project on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, including a dam, reservoir, treatment plant and delivery pipelines.
The water system is settlement compensation for numerous abuses by the federal government, which included clearing trees and other vegetation from thousands of acres of tribal lands in order to increase runoff into the Salt River, a source of water for the cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa and other communities. The tribe also would waive a half-dozen other claims against the government.
In February of this year the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Justice announced a settlement to provide as many as 70,000 African American farmers, many of whom suffered blatant racial discrimination at the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for decades, with cash damage awards and debt relief. This settlement is known as the Pigford II settlement. Sadly, efforts to appropriate the $1.25 billion necessary to fund Pigford II have consistently stalled in the U. S. Senate (the money has twice been approved by the U.S. House so far this year, only to be struck both times by the Senate). These claims cannot even begin to be investigated, let alone settled, until after Congress has appropriated the funding. Similarly, the $1.41 billion needed to fund an agreement between the US Department of Interior and Native American Indians over centuries of land abuse and mismanagement by the US government and lost royalty funds, known as the Cobell settlement, had heretofore been stalled in the United States Senate.
Aside: The White House and Department of Interior have lousy SEO; I found references to the releases but they did not show up in Google search results. (I found both by going to the official website press release archive. Grumble. They should link to one another.) Here’s more from the DOI press release:
Over the past 14 years, the class action litigation, filed by Elouise Cobell in 1996, included hundreds of motions, seven full trials, 22 motions and dozens of rulings and appeals. Under the negotiated agreement announced on Dec. 8, 2009, litigation would end regarding the federal government’s performance of an historical accounting for trust accounts maintained by the United States on behalf of more than 300,000 individual Indians. A fund of $1.4 billion would be distributed to class members to compensate them for their historical accounting claims, and to resolve potential claims that prior U.S. officials mismanaged the administration of trust assets.
In addition, to address the continued proliferation of thousands of new trust accounts caused by the “fractionation” of land interests through succeeding generations, the settlement establishes a $2 billion fund for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests. The land consolidation program will provide individual American Indians with an opportunity to obtain cash payments for divided land interests and free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities.
Kyle wasn’t the only Senator cutting state-specific deals. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) added “almost $370 million for projects in their states to implement water settlements.” But neither Democrat had signed on to a Tea Party injunction against earmarks. The Interior Department budget request of $46 million for tribal and water claims had not included funding for these three projects.
If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it’s a duck. These three men successfully introduced earmarks. It’s a budgetary allocation that removes Interior Department (ie, executive branch) budgetary discretion. Who knows if either the Interior Department or the Senate are doing the right thing? Not me. Media watchdogs seem AWOL.
Mini-Rant: Why don’t news organizations provide the full bill title and number when reporting on Congress? Why don’t they link to Thomas or some other service that provides detailed information about the bill — text, summary, history? I found the title of this bill from a law professor blog.
Photo Credit: Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, appears on “Fox News Sunday” in Washington, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008. (AP Photo/FOX News Sunday, Freddie Lee)