Tribal leaders urge Obama to support 'Carcieri fix'

WASHINGTON – Tribal leaders have appealed directly to President Barack Obama to urge the Senate to include a “Carcieri fix” in any spending bill that passes during the last days of the lame duck session.

In a letter sent to Obama Dec. 14 – two days before the president’s second annual Tribal Nations Conference – the National Congress of American Indians implored the president to weigh in on the issue of trust land for Indian nations.

“With all due respect, we call upon you to contact the Senate leadership and ask them to restore the (Interior) secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all Indian tribes in whatever spending measure the Senate passes for the 2011 Fiscal Year,” NCAI President Jefferson Keel and First Vice President Juana Majel Dixon wrote. The letter was signed by almost 100 tribal leaders.

The “Carcieri fix” is needed to repair a devastating Supreme Court ruling that has frozen land into trust applications at the Interior Department for three years.

“In Febraury 2009, the Supreme Court reversed 75 years of precendent under the Indian Reorganization Act and ruled that the secretary lacks authority to take land into trust for Indian tribes that were not under federal supervisions in 1934. In essence, the court’s ruling denies those tribes President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ for Indians, robbing the tribes of the very foundation for their communities,” the tribal leaders wrote.

Tribal leaders learned that a “Carcieri fix,” which had been included in the Senate’s omnibus appropriations bill, had “dropped out.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, unveiled a $1.108 trillion omnibus spending package on Tuesday. Inouye hoped that the omnibus bill would substitute for a continuing resolution (CR) passed by the House Dec. 8, but by Wednesday there were doubts that he had enough Senate votes to override Republican objections to the massive spending package. The bill includes roughly $8 million in earmarks, according to a report in the National Journal.

The tribal leaders applauded the House’s continuing resolution – a spending package that includes no earmarks and would cap discretionary spending at the 2010 level of $1.089 trillion, but does include the “Carcieri fix.” Furthermore, the CR does not include any anti-Indian amendments or riders that would single out individual tribes for negative impacts.

The House’s CR “was a major milestone for Indian country, yet to make this meaningful, the Senate must enact this provision as well,” the tribal leaders wrote.

When Congress failed to pass appropriations bills earlier this year because of an ongoing conflict over the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the federal budget was supported by a series of short-term CR’s. The current CR expires Dec. 18.

If the omnibus bill fails, the only remaining vehicle to fund the federal government going forward is the House’s CR with its “Carcieri fix” amendment.

But if somehow the Senate fails to approve the CR, it will likely mean the end of the “Carcieri fix” for the foreseeable future since a Republican House is not likely to address it in the new Congress.