The Bush administration, specifically the Department of Justice, came under fire on Thursday as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the committee chairman, took DOJ to task for "killing" the bill last year. He slammed a "white paper" that was released to Republicans on the eve of consideration in the Senate.
"If you don't agree with us, don't come by in the midnight hour trying to kill the product with white papers going to one political caucus in the Senate," Dorgan told Frederick Breckner III, a deputy assistant general at DOJ. "That's not going to work."
Breckner sought to explain how the document came to light in late September, just as the Senate was going into recess for the year. But he was unable to say with certainty how the white paper ended up in the hands of the Republican Steering Committee, whose members ended up putting several holds on the bill.
"I was told that no one in the DOJ released it," Breckner testified. "I do apologize for the timing."
Breckner said the white paper was supposed to be released during the recess in order to discuss ways to improve the bill. He indicated that the committee asked the department to prepare a list of written concerns.
Dorgan, who was vice chairman at the time, immediately seized on the response, denying that he ever asked for the document. He also said Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the former chairman, hadn't asked for it either.
Dorgan said Breckner's explanation was highly suspicious because the Senate, at the time, hadn't even planned to come back for a lame-duck session. The sponsors of the bill were trying to get it passed before the recess because they didn't know whether they would be coming back to Washington after the November elections.
"The evidence is that the Department of Justice put out a white paper to kill this bill," Dorgan said.
"You read what you prepared," Dorgan added. "You have carefully considered how you would respond to this uncomfortable question."
Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming), the committee vice chairman, also was critical of the department's stance. "I'm a little surprised you say you haven't had a chance to look
at the bill," Thomas told Breckner, who said in his opening statement that he was unable to provide comments because he hasn't read it yet.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was upset with the department as well. "It was killed, I think in a most unfortunate way," she said of the bill that was brought up during the 109th Congress.
The hearing concluded after a panel of tribal leaders and Indian health advocates testified.
"The bill, we believe, was largely derailed by the DOJ memorandum," said Rachel Joseph, the co-chair of the National Steering Committee on the Reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
on the Indian Health Care Improvement Act
(March 8, 2007)
to President Bush
to Alberto Gonzales
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
Indian Health Board - http://www.nihb.org
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