Elouise Cobell provides update about status of trust settlement
Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, will be answering questions about the proposed settlement to the case. Cobell is a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana.

Dear Indian Country

This is the thirteenth letter in a series of open letters that I’m sending to Indian Country. The purpose of this letter is to update you about the settlement.

Since my last Ask Elouise letter, I have been monitoring the Senate and its consideration of the supplemental bill funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to which we were attached by the House some time ago. Unfortunately, Senate leadership stripped our authorizing legislation from the war appropriations bill for political reasons unrelated to the merits of our settlement.

It is a difficult political environment on Capitol Hill, with a number of Members focused on reelection politics, not our much needed legislation. Our legislation efforts are complicated by record deficits, a weak national economy, and the requirement that $2 billion of our settlement be paid for through spending or revenue “off-sets.” This year, most legislation, excluding emergency spending legislation, has designated off-sets, but off-sets have become very controversial because each political party has its own views on the “acceptable off-sets.” Unfortunately, Congress has repeatedly taken our identified off-sets that were deemed widely acceptable to support other bills that were more important to Senate leadership and the Administration.

And, unfortunately, the Administration has been unwilling to designate any of the billions of dollars of unspent economic stimulus funds to ensure passage of our settlement bill. This has forced us to start over repeatedly as our Congressional allies have to work even harder to identify other possible acceptable off-sets.

Throughout the rest of the session which ended August 5, I and our attorneys continued to work with our allies in the Senate to get attached to a bill that the Senate would pass. Before the Senate recessed, leadership brought our case to a vote through a procedure called “unanimous consent.” This simply means that the Senate could pass the bill so long as no Senator objects; if any Senator objects, the bill does not pass. This measure did not pass as a result of Senator Barrasso’s (R-WY) ongoing objection to the settlement. As I reported in an earlier Ask Elouise letter, Senator Barrasso hasn’t made a secret of his desire to kill the settlement, going against the will of the tribes in his own state and all but a handful of disgruntled critics.

It is becoming more likely that Congress will not pass settlement legislation. Indeed, it is unusual for any settlement or judgment to be conditioned on political acceptance by Congress. The Judgment Fund, a permanently appropriated fund, was created decades ago by Congress to pay for all settlements and judgments against the United States. It has two purposes: first, to exclude final judgments and settlements against the United States from the uncertainties of the political process and, second, to restore the reputation of the United States, which had become a “deadbeat” nation. Simply put, “politics” routinely blocked payment of the government’s debt obligations. Sadly, we seem to be heading that way again. Our settlement agreement was executed on December 7, 2009 – over eight months ago – and, I know of no reason to believe that our prospects will improve as we get closer to the mid-term elections. In fact, they are likely to get worse.

Nevertheless, after endless hearings and debates in Congress about our case and its settlement, we have gathered a massive amount of support from Members of Congress. I am informed that if we ever come to a vote in the Senate that we have sufficient votes to safely beat any filibuster. For this reason, I have carefully considered our options, consulted with scores of beneficiaries, listened to their concerns, and talked to our attorneys before making a decision to extend the agreement for what is likely to be the last time. I’m especially mindful of the fact that the vast majority of beneficiaries want this settlement to work because it is a fair deal. For these reasons, I’ve decided to extend the settlement agreement through October 15, 2010.

Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website: http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php.

We also have a "frequently asked questions" section to answer the most common questions we've received: http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php.

With so many members of the class, I can’t answer every question that you send. The Ask Elouise letters will answer as many questions as possible that are relevant to the entire class.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether someone is included in this settlement. Unfortunately, I do not have that information. The settlement agreement provides general guidelines (see also http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php), but I also understand that many of you have unique or unusual circumstances, which make it unclear to me whether you are included in the settlement class. For those of you who still have questions, I recommend that you register to receive all Court-ordered communications to ensure you do not miss important information. There is no need to register if you are receiving a quarterly IIM statement. The Court ultimately will determine who is included in this settlement. Registration information can be found at the end of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.

Internet: https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php
Telephone: 1-800-961-6109

If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com. Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you and keep your questions coming!

Cobell Settlement Documents:
Agreement | Press Release | Q&A | Audio

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