Democratic wins improve outlook for health care reauthorization

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<b>Analysis</b>

WASHINGTON – The Democratic uprising in Congress has improved the prognosis for reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, a goal tribes have been seeking for six years now.

The Democratic Party has made advances on universal health care a plank in its platform, and incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., mentioned national health care as a leading priority in speeches immediately following the Nov. 7 elections. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was a practicing physician before residing in the governor’s mansion in Vermont; and in Vermont, his track record included the expansion of universal health care programs for women and children.

So congressional leadership can be counted on as a sympathetic audience. Of equal importance, the committees of jurisdiction in the House of Representatives will be chaired by Democrats as majority party members. At the critical House Ways and Means Committee, where tribal advocates have not been able to make major headway with their case for reauthorization, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is expected to become chairman. Rangel is an active member of the Congressional Native American Caucus and has written publicly on the need for the reform, and better funding, of the IHS, as well as for preventive measures against diabetes.

The House Resources Committee has been supportive of IHCIA reauthorization under the outgoing chairman, Richard Pombo, who lost his bid for an eighth term as a Republican from California’s 11th district. The new committee chairman is expected to be ranking Democrat Nick Rahall of West Virginia, a reliable ally of tribes and also an active presence in the Congressional Native American Caucus. Rahall joined Pombo in moving a reauthorization bill out of committee in the 109th Congress, now concluding. It would be news indeed if he changed his views with Democrats in charge of Congress.

Moving onto more speculative ground, Sen. Hilary Clinton, re-elected in New York, will be a force to be reckoned with in Democratic circles, as she navigates toward an anticipated (though by no means certain) presidential campaign in 2008. Her commitment to reform in health care is
well-known; to Native issues in general, unquestioned. For that matter, Bill Clinton stands with Richard Nixon among modern presidents in his commitment to Native America.

A status report on the reauthorization bill, the latest attempts to advance it in Congress and current objections of the Republican presidential administration can be found on the National Indian Health Board Web site at www.nihb.org/docs/ihcia_update_2006-11-03.pdf.