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Pallone probes for administration views on health care reauth

Gearing up for legislative action once Congress returns to full session in September, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in the House of Representatives is prodding the Bush administration for its views on amendments to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., sent a letter to Dr. Charles W. Grim, director of the IHS, reminding him that it is going on three months since he told the subcommittee that comments were likely to be delivered to Congress by the end of June. Administration comments tend to be a key ingredient of most complex legislation as it moves through Congress.

Pallone wrote that the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 2007, H.R. 1328 in the House, ''holds great promise for improving the health status of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Accordingly, we hope to work together to ensure its timely passage.''

Reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act has faltered in previous sessions of Congress because of foot-dragging by the administration, according to multiple accounts. Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a sponsor of health care reauthorization law when he was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, recently said the administration ''ran the thing out on us, so to speak, until we couldn't get the thing passed.'' In the current 110th Congress, Pallone and Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, have promised quicker action.

Pallone is the vice chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., ranking member of the subcommittee, co-signed the letter.

Majel takes post as second in command at BIA

Reaching outside the BIA for his second in command, assistant secretary for Indian affairs Carl Artman has hired Majel Russel as the bureau's principal deputy assistant secretary.

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Russell, a Crow graduate of the University of Montana School of Law, class of 1991, brings a breadth of experience to her post as Artman's principal adviser. She has worked in Indian country as a lead prosecutor, policy expert, legal counsel and constitutional revisionist.

Russell takes over from acting principal deputy George Skibine, who will remain within the parent Interior Department, concentrating on his specialty of Indian gaming.

IRS extends deadline on split pension plans

The Internal Revenue Service has given official notice of a deadline extension for tribes to separate the pension plans of governmental and commercial enterprise employees. Notice 2006-89 sets back the deadline for compliance with Section 909 of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 from Sept. 30 to six months after the issuance of an IRS ''guidance'' document.

Section 909 has met with resistance from tribes, primarily because it puts a burden on tribal governments that state governments do not share, but also because of cost factors.

Tom Rodgers, a lobbyist with Carlyle Consulting, said efforts continue to ''fix'' Section 909 through amending legislation.

Murkowski, Barrasso complete new lineup

Just prior to the August recess of Congress, the Senate Commitment on Indian Affairs installed Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as its vice chairman. Murkowski came to the Senate in the footsteps of her father, former senator and veteran Alaska political figure Frank Murkowski. But with her election to the vice chairmanship, she broke new trail as the first woman to fill the committee's second most visible position, after the majority party chairmanship now held by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. As has tended to be the case on the committee, Dorgan and Murkowski expressed a strong bipartisan commitment to getting things done for Indian country. Following the committee vote, Murkowski joined Dorgan in making reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act the committee's top priority.

Murkowski follows the late Sen. Craig Thomas of Wyoming in the minority party's ranking committee seat. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., assumed the place vacated by Murkowski's elevation.