Washington in brief


Half-year deficit hits a record high

The federal deficit for the first half of fiscal year 2008, which began Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, has reached a record high of $311.4 billion, according to the Treasury Department. The Washington Post newspaper reports that the figure represents a 20.5 percent deficit increase over the same period last year.

The deficit represents the amount the government is spending above the revenue it takes in. Rebecca Adamson, a financial professional of long experience in Indian country, as founding president of First Nations Development Institute and now of First Peoples Worldwide, said that when considered in light of the war expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worsening domestic economy, the spiraling deficit presents a challenge to federally funded programs that Americans haven't had to face in decades.

''People don't realize, this is just the tip,'' Adamson said. ''This could be irreversible in our lifetimes.''

Interior responds to $58 billion figure in Cobell case

Attorneys for the Interior Department have filed a response to plaintiff claims of $58 billion due to the injured class in the lawsuit over federal mismanagement of the Individual Indian Money trust, known as Cobell after lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell.

From start to finish of a massively detailed document, the defendants seek to sweep away the possibility of any monetary disgorgement based on a previous court finding that Interior (the federal government's delegate agency over the IIM trust) cannot deliver a historical accounting of revenues due to the accounts. In their own filing for a remedy, plaintiff attorneys argued that under trust law, already referenced in the case by presiding Judge James Robertson, the government cannot retain sums that don't show up in the IIM accounts due to its incurable breach of fiduciary duty. Plaintiffs estimated the government's debt of equitable restitution to be approximately $58 billion.

In response, the government insists that the entire point of the lengthy court proceeding has not been an accounting, as required by a 1994 reform law, but simply money, which DoJ solicitors characterized as ''damages.''

''Plaintiffs seek over $58 billion in damages, cloaked in the guise of an equitable disgorgement claim. ... That relief is not available in this court. The Administrative Procedure Act ... does not waive the United States' sovereign immunity with respect to such a claim which, no matter how artfully Plaintiffs try to disguise it, is for money damages.''

Plaintiff attorneys have denied that damages are at issue in oral argument.

Throughout its spirited response, the defendant attorneys argue that the only relief available to the plaintiffs is an accounting that Robertson has ruled impossible.