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Senate votes down health and trust measures
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved a $20 billion spending bill for the Department of Interior after Republicans beat back two amendments that would have increased money for Indian health care and stopped the Indian trust reorganization.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) argued on the floor for an additional $292 million to the Indian Health Service (IHS). He came armed with charts that showed the federal government spends $3,800 on health care per prisoner but only $1,900 for American Indiansand Alaska Natives.

"For the life of me, I can't understand how somebody could vote against this knowing that we are giving one-half the amount of money to Indian children as we are to federal prisoners," he said.

But 45 Republicans did, denying Daschle the 60 votes he needed to approve his motion due to a special budget rule. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) led the opposition on the floor, and said the federal government couldn't afford to beef up the IHS account.

"Over the last five years, well over $1 billion in new money has been provided in order to improve health care within our Native American community," he said. "Within the extremely limited resources . . . we've been responsive to the needs of the Native Americans."

A few Republicans from states with significant Native populations did vote for the Daschle plan. They were Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Ted Stevens (Alaska). Sen. Susan Collins of Maine also supported it.

In a second amendment, Daschle sought to shift $79 million from the Department of Interior to IHS, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The transfer would prevent the Bush administration from spending money on a reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and an expansion of the Office of Special Trustee (OST).

The measure failed by a 43 to 52 vote, again split along party lines. McCain, who has criticized the reorganization as a waste of money, was the only Republican to back the amendment.

But there was a very notable Democrat voted against his party and the views of many tribal leaders. It was Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, who joined Campbell, the panel's chairman, in voting no.

Tribes oppose how the reorganization is being carried out, noting that the 2004 budget includes increases for trust at the expense of other areas. To implement the changes, OST's budget will grow from from $152 million to $275 million next year but most of the money will be used for new hires, not Indian programs.

Meanwhile, BIA's budget is largely static at $2.3 billion in 2004. The increase the agency is receiving will primarily go to information technology, not for Indian programs.

Bush administration officials have sent mixed messages on the budget. Special Trustee Ross Swimmer flat-out denied Indian programs were being shorted on a radio program in late May but a couple of weeks later, Aurene Martin of the BIA told tribal leaders that they weren't going to see increases due to trust reform.

Members of Congress have modified the trust budget somewhat in response to the tribal complaints and their own priorities. Both the House and Senate versions of the DOI bill cut the request for an historical accounting of Indian and tribal trust funds from $130 million to $75 million.

The Senate approved its version by a voice vote yesterday. It will now go to a joint House-Senate conference committee to resolve any differences.

On the floor, Daschle contrasted the needs of Indian Country with the money that President Bush has requested to rebuild Iraq. "If we can't afford $292 million for our Native American population," he said, "then I sure hope we won't hear the argument on the other side that we somehow we can afford providing health care dollars to the Iraqi children."

"But I'll bet you that's exactly what we will hear: $87 billion," he added. "It's a double standard."

Senate Roll Call:
Vote on S.Amdt 1734 | Vote on S.Amdt 1739

Get the DOI Budget Bills:
H.R.2691 | H.Rept.108-195 | S.1391 | S.Rept.108-89

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov

Related Stories:
Consolidation plan advances at Interior (9/16)
Court report finds undervaluation of Navajo lands (08/21)
Court master releases report on Navajo appraisals (8/20)
Swimmer weighs consolidation of appraisals (8/15)
Congress hacks Bush's accounting funds (7/16)
Trust fund provision stripped from House bill (7/15)
Swimmer partly right on trust fund rider (7/14)
Indian employees challenging DOI reorganization (06/03)
Tribes stress unity on trust reform solutions (5/30)
Cobell welcomes a settlement to trust case (5/30)
Tribes gathering for trust reform discussion (5/29)
NCAI's Hall stands by trust reform testimony (5/28)
Reorganization: Meet the 'new' OST (5/28)
Tribes oppose OST expansion into Indian County (5/22)
Swimmer: Don't fear changes at Interior (5/22)
On trust, Swimmer turns to private sector (5/14)
Reorganization: Meet the 'new' BIA (04/30)
DOI begins second transition period on Indian affairs (04/29)
Bunker metality evident in trust reform fight (04/22)
At Interior, Indian affairs in a state of flux (02/11)
BIA agencies face new trust rating system (02/10)
Interior policy would hail end of Indian preference (11/20)

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