Skip to main content

Health care reauthorization gains ground in Senate

WASHINGTON - American Indians and Alaska Natives nationwide have invested time and passion in the latest attempt to update the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has repeatedly stated his determination to reauthorize and amend the bill after the failed efforts of the past four congresses.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., wanted to show some progress going into the August recess. So he took to the floor of the Senate to speak for Indian health and urge the reauthorization bill on his colleagues, and to offer it as an amendment to a previously introduced bill that some observers consider to be under threat of a presidential veto and not apt to go anywhere, with an amendment or without. In the first of a few choreographed moves punctuated by statements of mutual respect among colleagues, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, agreed to schedule a Sept. 12 mark-up on Title II of the reauthorization bill, the title Senate Finance has jurisdiction over. Baucus has a stake in the bill Dorgan sought to amend; and as chairman of one of the Senate's most influential committees, he'll be among the last to accept a skeptical view of its chances.

In contrast to other committee hearings, the intent of a ''mark-up'' meeting is to deliver a vote for or against a bill. Senate Finance approval of the Indian health care reauthorization bill is considered likely, possibly even by unanimous vote in the view of some Capitol Hill observers.

With that, as Dorgan had assured Baucus he would, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, arose to commit floor time to the bill after it is out of the Baucus committee and before the full Senate. Given the Senate institution of the ''hold,'' which enables any senator to stall any bill for any reason, Reid was preparing to exercise the unique prerogative of the Senate majority leader to say ''all holds are off'' a bill and take it to the floor.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Given the Senate institution of the filibuster, prolonged partisan debate designed to stall a vote on the merits of a bill once it reaches the floor, the bill could still face delays. But the critical importance of the Sept. 12 mark-up is that it provides a span of time to resolve issues without a filibuster.

Following Reid's commitment to floor time, Dorgan withdrew his amendment.

And that was progress in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act reauthorization still has multiple committees to get through, and language including urban Indians in the federal obligation for health care to Indian people still remains an omission.