The Obama administration is making a last-minute push to win approval for two multibillion-dollar settlements involving the federal government and members of minority groups.
Hoping to swat away any objections that could derail the proposed settlements, senior officials said Monday that the settlements were the best hope for resolving long-standing claims. They urged final approval by the U.S. House of Representatives, after senators gave their long-awaited approval on Nov. 19.
"These cases have been going on in court for decades and have been incredibly hard-fought," said Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, the Justice Department’s No. 3 official. Perrelli, speaking during a conference call with reporters, called the settlements "very fair deals" for taxpayers and plaintiffs.
One case, named for plaintiff Elouise Cobell, centers on allegations of poor accounting and mismanagement of trust accounts for American Indians. The proposed settlement involves $1.5 billion in cash for the plaintiffs and $1.9 billion in land transfers.
The other proposed settlement, named for plaintiff Timothy Pigford, would give $1.15 billion to plaintiffs who missed the deadline for an earlier settlement in a discrimination case against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Perrelli, noting the long history of the Cobell case, told reporters, "Never before had the United States and the plaintiffs reached an agreement."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the federal government wants to process payments "as expeditiously as possible" if the House gives its approval, but he warned that there likely will be some wait. "Obviously, it’s going to take some time. We want to make sure it’s done right," he said.
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