Like an unwanted house guest, the Cobell settlement may require another deadline extension after being taken out of the Senate’s pending jobs bill.
The settlement between American Indians and the federal government — already on its fifth deadline extension set for July 9 — was recently attached to an unrelated jobs and tax package, which the House passed just before Memorial Day recess.
However, Republican senators have blocked the bill and Democrats were unable to win a procedural vote last Thursday, falling just three votes short of the 60 required.
Senate staffers subsequently removed the settlement from their version of the bill because they viewed it as an obstacle to passage, Indian Country Today reported Wednesday.
“It is Congress’ responsibility, not the Justice Department’s,” Dennis Gingold, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview last week. “They could put us on any legislation, but they put us on this bill for obvious reasons — because everybody thought it was going to pass.”
Now lawmakers have removed the Cobell settlement from the jobs bill, Gingold told Indian Country Today. He will continue to look for other must-pass bills and may seek another extension from the courts, he said.
There’s no reason to think there couldn’t be an extension, Gingold said in the interview, especially “knowing how difficult it was to get to the settlement agreement, and there were times when both sides I’m sure wanted to walk away.
“Those problems seemed to get mitigated when you come back to the table,” he added. “It’s still early in the year.”
The settlement, named for Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the suit, was filed in 1996 on behalf of more than 300,000 American Indians.
Last December, the government and plaintiffs reached a $1.4 billion deal to settle the case, Cobell v. Salazar. However, the settlement requires congressional approval, and the original deadline, set for Dec. 31, 2009, has already been extended nearly seven months.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said in an e-mail on Friday that there was “no path forward right now” on the jobs bill to which the Cobell settlement had been attached. “We have done everything we could and Republicans objected every time,” Manley said.
As of Friday, he said there were no plans to attach the settlement to any other piece of legislation.
The Justice Department may need to rethink its plan to expedite approval through including the statement’s language in an unrelated tax bill if a new host bill cannot be found.
“We are committed to passing this legislation and will continue to work with congressional leadership to pass it,” said Melissa Schwartz, a Justice Department spokeswoman.