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Senators push for $400 million in Bush’s last budget proposal

WASHINGTON – A group of U.S. senators has sent President George W. Bush a letter requesting that as federal agencies prepare their budgets for fiscal year 2010, they should include funding that’s already been authorized for significant needs in Indian country.

The letter asks that the president’s budget includes $400 million for 2010 to assist in addressing tribal justice, health care, and water projects.

It was signed by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., John Tester, D-Mont., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Tim Johnson, D-S.D. and Senate Indian Affairs Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

“The funding would be used for desperately needed law enforcement, health care, and water projects benefitting American Indians and Alaska Natives,” the senators wrote.

The request comes after Thune and his colleagues worked to amend a foreign aid bill in July that was ultimately signed into law by Bush.

Under the amendment, Congress authorized a total of $2 billion, which broke down as follows: $750 million for law enforcement in Indian country; $250 million for Indian health care, including contract health services, Indian health facilities, and domestic and community sanitation facilities; and $1 billion for water supply projects that are part of Indian water settlements approved by Congress.

The authorization amounts were in addition to any amounts made available under any other provision of law.

The letter states that the funds authorized for public safety would begin to address the lack of staff and resources to arrest, prosecute, and detain criminals in Indian country. It also says that the authorized health care funds would help strengthen access to health care in Indian country.

Congress is now left to appropriate the funds it has already authorized, but Congress members still felt it was important for Bush to receive their letter. Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power of the purse, but the administration begins the annual appropriation process by submitting its budget for the coming fiscal year.

“Thune [and his colleagues] wrote to the president because he is the individual that puts out the original budget in February,” said Jon Lauck, a senior advisor to the senator.

“It is usually easier once things get to Congress if the money is already in the president’s budget.”

When asked why the letter requests funding for 2010 when the actual authorization started in fiscal year 2009, Lauck said it was because “this is a brand new authorization created in July 2008 and thus was not included in the FY2009 budget that passed Congress in early 2008.”

Lauck added that Thune will be looking to include fiscal year 2009 funding in March when a continuing resolution affecting the legislation expires. A continuing resolution is a type of appropriations legislation used by Congress to fund government agencies if a formal appropriations bill has not been signed into law by the end of the Congressional fiscal year.

Since Bush will soon no longer be president, Congressional leaders are likely to send President-elect Barack Obama another letter focused on the matter.

Lauck said that if Bush and/or President-elect Obama do not include the money in their proposed budgets, Thune “will be pursuing options within Congress.”

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