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Congress restores Bush's cuts to Indian programs

A $388 billion spending package that contains $2.3 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, $232 million for the Office of Special Trustee and $3.0 billion for the Indian Health Service was rushed through Congress over the weekend.

The House voted 344 to 51 on Saturday to pass the massive omnibus bill, a consolidated appropriations act that includes funding for 13 federal departments and hundreds of agencies. The Senate followed with a 63 to 50 vote that bogged down by a controversial provision related to tax returns.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, grew angry on Saturday and insisted the language was inserted without his knowledge. Opponents said it would allow Congressional staff the ability to look at anyone's tax return.

The omnibus finally passed after Stevens and other leaders agreed it would not be sent to President Bush until the tax provision was repealed. Final action is expected this week.

When the package does arrive at the White House, it will look different from the request the Bush administration submitted earlier this year. Tribal leaders criticized cuts to numerous programs at the BIA and IHS, from education to welfare to construction of new clinics and hospitals.

Thanks to the actions of the House and Senate, nearly every cut to programs at these two agencies was reversed and, in some cases, funding was increased. Also, members of Congress scaled back resources for the OST, which tribal leaders say is becoming a bloated bureaucracy.

Key items at the BIA include:
• $780 million for tribal priority allocations, $5 million over Bush's request and $10 million over current levels. Congress restored Bush's cuts to contract support costs and welfare assistance but not to education under this line item.
• $579 million for operation of BIA schools, $11 million over Bush's request and $9 million over current levels.
• $182 million for public safety and justice, the same as the Bush request but $10 million above current levels. A report accompanying the bill notes "significant problems" for BIA jails and says the extra money is to be used for new facilities and maintenance.
• $3.5 million for the United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota and $1.75 million for Crownpoint Institute of Technology in New Mexico. The Bush administration had requested no funds for these two institutions for the third year in a row.
• $267 million for construction of new BIA schools, a $38 million increase over the amount Bush requested. However, this appropriation is nearly $28 million less than current levels, highlighting a slowdown in what the White House has said is one of its top priorities.

As for IHS, there were fewer improvements on Bush's request, but key ones include:
• $1.3 billion for hospital and health clinic programs, nearly $12 million over Bush's request and $57 million over current levels.
• $487 million for contract care, $8 million over Bush's request. Tribes use this money to purchase services, often specialized, from non-IHS providers.
• Overall, clinical services is receiving $2.1 billion, $95 million more than the amount appropriated last year.
• $394 million for facilities, $40 million over Bush's request. The Bush administration had sought to cut construction of new clinics and hospitals by shifting more into sanitation facilities but Congress restored the money and scaled back the sanitation request.

As for the OST, whose resources have skyrocketed under the Bush administration, the bill provides $196 million for trust reform programs. While this is an increase of nearly $9 million over current levels, it is $51 million below the White House's request.

Of this amount, only $58 million can be used for historical accounting activities, lawmakers wrote in an accompanying report. Congress also cut the Indian land consolidation program, a Bush initiative, to just $35 million. Bush had requested $70 million for this program.

In other areas, the bill provides $6 million to the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico, the same as the Bush administration request. However, the amount is $173,000 less than current levels.

The National Museum of the American Indian will receive $32 million to cover salaries and expenses. The museum opened to great fanfare in September.

The bill also provides $44 million to tribes for land and water claim settlements, $10 million above Bush's request but $10 million below current levels. This is due to the fewer number of settlements that have been enacted into law. Congress provided $14 million to the Zuni Tribe of New Mexico, whose water rights claims in Arizona were resolved this year.

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Bill Language:

Statements on Funding:

Consolidated Appropriations Act:
Bill Text | Joint Explanatory Statement | HR 4818