President Bush's latest budget came under fire at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, as senators and tribal leaders assailed the administration for proposing cuts to health care, education and other Indian programs.
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, led the criticism of the fiscal year 2007 budget. He accused the White House of eliminating and reducing
funds for Indian programs without providing an adequate justification for the cuts.
"I think some of these cuts clearly send out the wrong signal to Indian Country as to what our belief on our fulfillment of our obligation to Native Americans is all about," McCain said in his opening remarks.
A key concern that emerged during the hearing was the Bush administration's proposal to get rid of the $33 million urban Indian health program at the Indian Health Service. Even though 64 percent of Native Americans live in urban areas, the White House says it is putting the focus on
reservation health care.
"The urban clinics in the western United States serve numerous Alaska Natives who have relocated to other parts of country, looking for employment, a better life, and so it's troubling when one considers that some of the clients served by these urban clinics were encouraged to leave their reservations," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, referring to the federal government's policy in 1950s to relocate Native Americans to urban areas.
Kathy Kitcheyan, the chairwoman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona and a representative of the National Indian Health Board, spoke against the cut. She said urban Native Americans
will be forced to turn to underfunded reservation health clinics, not to the community health centers as suggested in the budget.
"The government's assumption that American Indians and Alaska Natives will seek health care from community health centers is based on nothing," she testified. "There are no studies, no facts and no information."
Another health care cut that was criticized was the $20 million cut to construction of new facilities.
This is the second year in a row that the administration has reduced the account, down from $38 million in 2006, and down from $89 million in 2005.
The 2006 cut was portrayed as a "pause" in construction by the administration. But Kitcheyan said the 2007 cut amounts to a virtual elimination of the program despite the need for new facilities in places like Arizona and Alaska.
Cuts in education funding were also a major concern. The budget seeks to reduce funding for construction and replacement of Bureau of Indian Affairs schools by $50 million, eliminate the $16 million Johnson 0'Malley program and maintain level funding for other Indian education programs.
When inflation is factored in, Ryan Wilson, the president of the National Indian Education Association, said the flat-lined budget amounts to a "de facto" decrease. "Inadequately funding Native education programs will diminish, if not undo, the progress that has been made," he told
Bush administration officials defended the budget, with IHS director Dr. Charles Grim, a member of the Cherokee Nation, pointing out that the agency's overall budget of $4 billion saw an increase.
But Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) said Indian health care remains woefully underfunded.
"I know that 40 percent of the health care needs of Native Americans are unmet," Dorgan said. "It's a crisis. How many children today aren't going to get health care when they need it?"
Members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee are in a prime position to reverse the cuts, and they have worked to restore Indian program funds in the past. In addition to Dorgan, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which handles all the federal funding bills. Domenici, Johnson, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) also sit on the Senate Budget Committee.
The next step for the Indian Affairs Committee will be to send a "views and estimates" letter to the Budget Committee. Last year, McCain and Dorgan asked their budget counterparts to reject Bush's cuts to Indian programs. When the budget finally made it through Congress, many of the cuts were
This time around, McCain said he expected the same to occur. "Sometimes we see these budgets come over, with cuts that they [executive branch officials] know are going to be restored by
the Congress," he said. "It's a game as old as there is."
FY2007 BIA Budget Request:Bureau of
Indian Affairs Budget
Offices [includes Office of Special Trustee]
FY2007 DOI Budget Documents:Fulfilling
Lives, Resources, and Property [includes Safety in Indian Country]
| Budget in
Department [from the White House]
FY2007 IHS Budget in Brief:HTML
White House OMB Report:Major
Savings and Reforms in the President's 2007 Budget
White House Office of Management and Budget- http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb