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House Indian committee hopes sink under disputes

WASHINGTON - A proposed Indian Affairs committee in the House of Representatives won't happen for now, according to several Capitol Hill sources. Instead, the Resources Committee will remain the principal committee of jurisdiction on Native-specific issues in the House. It has been criticized, overtly in recent months, for putting Native issues in competition with multiple state-based issues that come before its 49 members (at last count). A handful of national tribal organizations, congressional members and lobbyists approached House leadership about establishing an Indian Affairs committee following the November elections, which gave Democrats a majority in the chamber for the first time since 1994.

''With everything going on in the transition, this was a jurisdictional dispute they didn't want to take on,'' said a Democratic lobbyist, referring to the transfers of power taking place on Capitol Hill as Democrats replace Republicans as the majority party in Congress. The lobbyist, the only one of several informants outside the government willing to speak for the record (though still not for attribution), said that several committees of the House are locked in disputes on oversight authority - Judiciary and Homeland Security are in a feud, Energy and Commerce and Banking are in another. The House Resources Committee would have to cede its jurisdiction over Indian issues to establish a permanent Indian Affairs Committee, the Democratic lobbyist said, adding that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her leadership team considered it a struggle they could do without. The Democratic majority has charted an ambitious agenda for the 110th Congress, which opened Jan. 4.

The lobbyist said that tribes and Reps. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., and Tom Cole, R-Okla., will continue to advocate on Capitol Hill for an Indian Affairs committee in the House.

Jim Zoia, staff director for the Democratic majority on Resources, confirmed that an Indian Affairs committee will not transpire in the 110th Congress. ''We haven't had any consultation on this matter,'' he said, speaking for Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the new chairman of Resources, and committee staff. The closest thing Rahall and committee staff have gotten to consultation on a permanent Indian Affairs committee has come during visits to the office by Tex Hall, former chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and current board chairman of the Inter-Tribal Economic Alliance.

Zoia said Rahall's position has always been clear - he won't sign off on laws or policies that affect tribes without tribal consultation.