Congressional dilly-dallying over the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement reached a critical stage Thursday night when Senate Democrats announced they'd be unable to meet a May 28 deadline for approval. The news comes as a major blow to Indian Country, as the settlement has been hailed the largest victory in nearly a century of complaints against the Department of the Interior (DOI).
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, lead by Browning resident Elouise Cobell, had already granted the U.S. Senate three deadline extension for approving the settlement since it was drafted last December. Failure to meet the fourth—today—raises the possibility of renewed litigation between Individual Indian Money account holders and the DOI, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Dennis Gingold, told Indian Country Today. The lawsuit was originally filed in 1996, and came to an end after 14 years largely due to pressure placed on the DOI by President Barack Obama.
Rob Capriccioso of Indian Country Today has a detailed report of last night's Senate announcement here. Seems the major hitch came when legislators attached the agreement to the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010. There was some discussion over rushing the settlement portion of the bill through the Senate before its Memorial Day recess, but to no avail. The settlement itself recently came under attack from several camps, most notably Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who happens to be vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.