Michele Bachmann, second to none in her culture war bonafides, is now training her fire on a government settlement for black farmers who were discriminated against.
Touring Iowa with Rep. Steve King, Bachmann voiced opposition to the settlement, which became an obsession in the conservative blogosphere months ago:
The issue came up after Bachmann and Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa toured flooded areas along the Missouri River. During a news conference, they fielded a question about whether farmers affected by the flooding also should be worried by proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture cuts.
The two responded by criticizing a 1999 settlement in what is known as the Pigford case, after the original plaintiff, North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford. Late last year, President Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing a new, nearly $1.2 billion settlement for people who were denied payments in the earlier one because they missed deadlines for filing.
Bachmann’s response is almost a liberal parody of how conservatives try to divide and conquer on the issue of government spending. Asked about potential cuts to hundreds of billions in agriculture subsidies, her response in effect is, “you know who doesn’t deserve government money? Black people!” The comedy doesn’t stop there, though. Bachmann’s own family farm has received $260,000 in farm subsidies over the years.
The short story behind the Pigford settlement is that the USDA spent years handing out loans and assistance to white farmers hand over fist while ignoring black farmers who asked for help, and has agreed to help black farmers who asked for but did not receive assistance during that time. Bachmann, echoing conservative bloggers, insisted that there is “proof positive” of fraud in the Pigford settlement. Not so. Claims filing for the second Pigford settlement hasn’t even begun yet, and 31 percent of the claims in the first settlement were denied. Not only that, but the second settlement was passed with an assortment of new anti-fraud provisions. The USDA Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office will both be conducting audits of the claims as they’re being processed, and their findings will be forwarded to the Department of Justice. So if there is fraud, we’ll find out about it.
For months, conservatives alleged that the Pigford settlement represented Obama “reparations” for black people. Of course, the settlement was supported by the decidedly non-black Republican Senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley, so this doesn’t even pass the laugh test. But it’s telling that when asked about the more than a hundred billion dollars the federal government dishes out in agriculture subsidies a year, Bachmann started complaining about a $1.2 billion settlement for black farmers discriminated against by the federal government. As usual, culture warriors like Bachmann get furious about how government money is being spent only when it’s going to the “wrong” people.
UPDATE: We thought this was obvious, but in the interests of total clarity, the phrase “you know who doesn’t deserve government money? Black people!” is meant to be a satirical paraphrase, and not an actual quote from Bachmann. We’ve edited the above to make that clearer.