House panels change hands in 108th Congress
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Republicans in the House assigned new leadership to the chamber's legislative committees on Thursday, making two key changes affecting Indian affairs.

Rep. Richard Pombo of California's 11th district sailed past more senior members of his party to secure the chairmanship of the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Indian issues and heard an impressive array of bills in the 107th session. He replaces Jim Hansen (R-Utah), who retired from Congress last year, and promised to work across party lines.

"As the incoming chairman, I will work with all of my colleagues on the Resources Committee to enact legislation of which we can all be proud," said Pombo. "There are too many areas of agreement for us to get bogged down in partisan battles."

Pombo was immediately praised by property rights groups, which are often at odds with tribal sovereignty, who said the cattle rancher would protect them from federal encroachment. "This is the most exciting news that private land owners and resource producers have had in ten years," said G. B. Oliver of New Mexico's Paragon Foundation, a group that has fought endangered fish protections in the Klamath Basin, where Indian and non-Indian interests have clashed.

Environmentalists are less happy with Pombo for his attempts to rewrite the Endangered Species Act, a battle that raged in the midst of the Klamath fish and treaty rights crisis. The League of Conservation Voters gave him 9 percent ranking last year, largely because he voted against storing nuclear waste on traditional Western Shoshone land in Nevada.

California's 11th district is less than 1 percent Native American and includes a handful of tribes. Pombo doesn't have a discernible record with them but he has helped push a bill to recognize a Native Hawaiian government. And last year, he voted against two controversial House amendments affecting Indian gaming and the trust fund.

The same can't be same of the incoming chairman of Interior Appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Charles Taylor of North Carolina's eleventh district. Although he opposed the study on gaming, he went along with his predecessor Joe Skeen (R-N.M.), who retired last year, and the panel's top Democrat, Norm Dicks of Washington, to scale back an historical accounting of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust over concerns the effort was too costly and might not be successful.

The two votes were among the most closely watched in Indian Country, with heavy lobbing by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and other Indian advocates. With the help of the Congressional Native American Caucus, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers to which Taylor belongs, the amendments, which had been included as part of the Department of Interior's $19.7 billion fiscal year 2003 budget, were eliminated.

As a powerful Appropriations "cardinal," Taylor has control over the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) budget as well as funding for the Indian Health Service (IHS). He is expected to hold oversight hearings on trust fund management in March to review the Bush administration's 2004 spending plans.

The chairmanship of the full Appropriations committee is still in the hands of Rep. Bill Young (R-Florida). He helped put noted tribal gaming and federal recognition critic Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) in charge of the Commerce, Justice, State subcommittee.

As for Pombo, the trust fund will be a hot issue. Tribal leaders have already asked the Resources committee to hold oversight hearings on the proposed reorganization of the BIA and the Office of Special Trustee (OST). Joining him will be two Republican newcomers: Rick Renzi of Arizona, whose district includes six reservations, and Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

In the 108th Congress, committee makeups are titled in favor of the GOP. On the House Resources Committee, the split is 28 to 24 while on Appropriations it is 27 to 24.

Relevant Documents:
Republican Committee Assignments | Republican Appropriations Assignments

Relevant Links:
Rep. Richard Pombo -
House Resources Committee -
Rep. Charles Taylor -
House Appropriations Committee -

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