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Washington in brief

Prospects improving for Native 8(a)

A small-business contracting bill that would do no harm to tribal and Alaska Native interests under the Small Business Administration's Native 8(a) contracting program passed the House of Representatives Oct. 30, and a Senate version progressed before the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Nov. 7. The Senate bill seeks to expand the pie for all small-business contractors, especially focusing on women and service-disabled veterans.

The program has been under a microscope for two years as Native 8(a) contracts have risen along with total 8(a) contracts.

Karen Atkinson, executive director of the Native American Contractors Association, said the prognosis is fairly good for getting a bill into law that would enhance minority business contracting generally. She added that with a number of intervention points in the legislative process still ahead for the bill, its advocates must remain vigilant.

Clinton, Obama commit to casting votes on health bill

The place for Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois is on the campaign trail these days, and that has led backers of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Reauthorization bill, S. 1200 in the Senate, to tally votes as if the two Democratic presidential candidates were not going to be on hand to cast their ballots.

But with the bill progressing toward a possible January vote, and the outcome apt to be close in the narrowly Democratic-majority chamber, both camps have said the candidates will monitor the proceedings and cast a vote for the bill in Washington if needed.

Both Obama and Clinton have co-sponsored the bill and announced their strong support for enhanced Indian health care.

Chief of staff steps down at National Indian Gaming Commission

Joseph Valandra has resigned as chief of staff at the National Indian Gaming Commission, less than two weeks after the agency proposed extensive new regulations for Class II gaming.

Valandra's resignation was in effect before Thanksgiving. He said he needs to make sure two college-age sons have the resources they need to attend the colleges of their choice, referring to the higher pay scale of the private sector compared with government service. He added that as a government employee, he hasn't been able to check out the job market and has no idea where he will work next. He expects to stay in Indian gaming, however: ''I can't imagine I would leave it.''

No comfort for GOP in Virginia results

For the first time in a decade, Virginians restored a Democratic majority to the state Senate. The votes were close, but all of the key ones went the way of Democrats. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will now govern the state, a conservative bastion going back to the Reagan presidency, with a workable Democratic majority.

According to several commentators from across the political spectrum, still worse news for Republicans may be that no specific issue emerged as an indicator of voter disaffection with the Virginia GOP - certainly not immigration, touted by Republicans in many quarters as the issue that will rally their faithful in one of the worst-looking election years for the party since Watergate.

As emphasized by the same commentators, anything can happen between now and the 2008 presidential election; and local political results, even in a closely watched state like Virginia, do not necessarily predict national outcomes or even signal a trend. But beyond such necessary qualifications, the Nov. 6 results were widely analyzed as an indication of voter realignment, rather than a simple reflection of temporary disfavor toward the GOP.