Dorgan to continue as Senate Indian Affairs chairman

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WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced that Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., will have a second term serving as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Reid said Dec. 15 that he has made recommendations to the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee regarding committee chairmanships for the 111th Congress. Final approval is expected to be ratified via an organizing resolution when the Senate returns to session in January.

Committee membership and ratios have yet to be resolved, according to a Senate press release.

Dorgan was traveling in the Middle East when the announcement was made, so he wasn’t available for comment, according to his press office, but he did offer thoughts on his upcoming plans in a recent editorial he wrote for Indian Country Today.

“…I intend to use my chairmanship of the Indian Affairs Committee to keep working to fundamentally reform and improve health care for Native Americans,” Dorgan wrote.

“The First Americans urgently need and deserve better health care. My pledge to Indian country, as chairman, is to keep working until they get it.”

He added that it was “a huge disappointment” that Congress this year failed to send the president the Indian Health Care Improvement Act reauthorization. The legislation passed in the Senate, but it did not clear the House of Representatives.

“This was good legislation,” Dorgan wrote. “The House should have joined the Senate in passing it. It included important new initiatives that would have dramatically improved Indian health efforts – mental health programs to address unusually high youth suicide rates; long term care programs for those suffering from chronic illnesses; and greater access to Medicare/Medicaid programs for broader health care coverage.”

Dorgan laid blame on the lack of House action on “highly controversial language regarding abortion” that was amended to the Senate version of the bill. ICT previously reported that Sen. David Vitter, R-La., added anti-abortion language to the bill that forbade the use of federal funds to pay for abortions under the reauthorization.

Dorgan also noted that he was pleased that Congress this year approved and sent to the president the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act. The law authorizes basic housing programs in Indian country and had expired in 2007.

Reid announced several other committee chairmanships that will likely play a role in Indian country budgetary matters in the next session of Congress.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who sits on the Indian affairs committee with Dorgan, was named as the new chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., will retain his chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., will remain chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., will continue to lead the Senate Budget Committee.