No Relief For Tribes In 2006
by: Jerry Reynolds / Indian Country Today
Showing Republican unity behind the presidential priority of reduced budget deficits, a so-called blueprint of the fiscal year 2006 budget has emerged from congressional working committees without restored funding for Indian-specific school construction, housing, health facility and BIA programs.
The programs face steep cutbacks from FY 2005 levels. The preliminary budget blueprint, though far from dispositive in its impact on the final budget scheduled for enactment by next October when FY 2006 commences, is a noteworthy marker in the federal budgeting process.
Indians are not alone in facing budget reductions in President Bush's requested budget for 2006. But in the process of enacting the 2005 budget last year, since-retired Colorado Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat who was unseated in the November 2004 elections, were able to work with other lawmakers from Indian-populous states to restore funding for many of the programs targeted for curtailment in the president's 2005 request.
The enacted budget's current blueprint makes it clear that such restorations will be hard to come by in FY 2006. The president's commitment to deficit reduction is one reason. The Republican ascendancy in both chambers of Congress, comfortably controlled by GOP majorities after the election gains of last November, is another.
And a third reason, undoubtedly, is the prospective cost of the class action lawsuit, known as Cobell, against the government over the mismanaged Individual Indian Money trust.
Campbell warned repeatedly in the 108th Congress that GOP appropriators were losing patience with the case's costs, complexities and sheer duration. In the current 109th Congress, lawmakers from both parties have opined in public remarks that Cobell-related costs influence Indian-specific budgetary decisions across the board. The judge in the Cobell court has reinstated his order for a costly, comprehensive historical accounting of the IIM trust.
South Dakota senators Tim Johnson and John Thune, Democrat and Republican respectively, along with Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth in the House of Representatives, expressed hope that more funding can be found for Indian-specific programs before the 2006 budget is finally enacted. But in remarks that appeared in the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader newspaper, Thune emphasized the president's commitment to deficit reduction, and Johnson characterized potential restorations as nickel-and-dime shifts, presumably from other line items in the federal budget.
Montana Democrats call for Abramoff cash back from Burns
The Montana Democratic Party called on Sen. Conrad Burns to return campaign donations received from discredited lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his tribal clients. The donations total $137,000, according to The Washington Post newspaper.
While on a committee that controlled Interior Department and BIA budgets, Burns overrode an Interior Department decision against providing school construction funds to the Saginaw Chippewa, a casino-wealthy tribe and one-time Abramoff client. The funding, $3 million, by law was intended for impoverished tribes.
State Democrats previously called for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Burns over his dealings with Abramoff, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Burns, a Republican, is up for re-election in 2006.
Roll Call newspaper, a fixture on Capitol Hill, reported that Burns has hired Cleta Mitchell, a leading GOP attorney in Washington, to represent him against ethics allegations. A Burns spokesman denied that her hiring has to do with legal defense, characterizing the attorney as an observer.
The explanation inspired a response from Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Brad Martin, as quoted in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle: ''You don't hire someone like Cleta Mitchell if you got a press problem.''
Cara Cowan, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council
District 7 - Will Rogers
P.O. Box 2922
Claremore, OK 74018
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