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Health bill vote set back to January in Senate

WASHINGTON - Abandoning hopes of a vote on the Indian health care reauthorization bill by the congressional Thanksgiving recess, Democratic leadership in the Senate has rescheduled the vote for January, following the Christmas and New Years recess.

Kitty Marx, legislative director of the National Indian Health Board, confirmed announcements made at the recent National Congress of American Indians conference in Denver. She added that not too much should be read into the rescheduling, given the workload before Congress as it enters a presidential election year. The Senate recently spent unscheduled hours dealing with amendments to the national farm bill, and contention over war funding generated a time-consuming filibuster (unlimited debate as a tactic for stalling a vote) on Nov. 16.

''The bill's moving,'' Marx said of Senate Bill 1200, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act reauthorization. ''We're making progress.''

In the Senate, the Senate Finance Committee has found an offset in the federal budget of the increased Medicare and Medicaid cost of S. 1200, Marx said. At $129 million over 10 years, the cost is considered minor on Capitol Hill - ''budget dust,'' as the saying there goes.

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Negotiations are ongoing between Senate Democratic leadership on the bill and a cadre of Republicans who want to offer an assortment of amendments that would dilute the bill, Marx said. She acknowledged that Republicans still hope to strip the bill of its urban Indian health care title, Title V of S. 1200. But there's a lot of support for urban Indian health care on Capitol Hill, she added. ''Congress has spoken on urban Indian health care,'' she said, by restoring funds for urban Indian health clinics that President Bush zeroed out in his budget request for fiscal year 2008.

In the House of Representatives Nov. 7, the health subcommittee passed the House version of IHCIA reauthorization on to the full Energy and Commerce Committee. Subcommittee members offered supportive comments on the bill at that time, Marx said. The full committee is scheduled to take it up on Dec. 15. The House Ways and Means Committee also has jurisdiction over the bill, but the issues before it are minor enough that a quick discharge is possible, Marx said.