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Washington in brief


It was no surprise to see Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, covering the flanks
of Indian country Feb. 28 with a voice amendment to strike Indian
provisions from a lobbying reform bill.

Three weeks earlier, at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on
lobbying reform and tribes, Inouye's persistent questioning had elicited
testimony to the effect that "horrendous abuse" by tribes of the laws on
political donations simply is not happening. His amendment to a lobbying
reform package offered by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., purged the bill of
measures that would have forced tribes to report political campaign
contributions to the Federal Election Commission.

But what was this about the Senate Rules Committee, which voted by voice to
adopt Inouye's amendment? Inouye is strongly associated with the Senate
Indian Affairs Committee.

In both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Rules Committee is
one of the most important committees in Congress. Legislation often
requires a ruling by the committee before it can proceed to debate on the
House or Senate floor, and that ruling shapes the debate. The Rules
Committee on the House side has gained a higher profile recently as
Democrats have asked the legislative cable TV channel C-SPAN to cover its
proceedings, according to The Hill newspaper, which covers the political
process in Congress. A Hill article reported that House Rules Committee
meetings take place at night, often, Democrats argue, with little notice
under emergency proceedings. Republicans, as the majority party in both
chambers, can dictate "amendments or substitute bills" that "ultimately
determine law."

In the Senate, on lobbying reform at least, the Rules Committee has
operated with greater collegiality as Lott, the committee chairman, has
permitted amendments to his bill on points of disagreement.

As of this writing, the Lott bill has been combined with another lobbying
reform bill passed out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Committee of the Senate. Still alive is a point-of-order rule that would
permit congressional members to kill "earmarks," home-state spending
amendments attached without debate to an unrelated bill late in the
legislative process, without sinking the larger bill. Earmarks are the
recognized essence of "pork-barrel politics."

In addition, as of this writing, the bill would demand accountability in
so-called grass-roots lobbying, efforts by lobbying firms to "get out the
vote" in local communities. Currently, grass-roots lobbying expenditures go
unreported. Tribes, like the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians in
Michigan, have argued that anti-casino groups are financed secretively by
various interests, and some of such funding might become public knowledge
if the grass-roots lobbying reform measure makes it into law.

Another open question in the Senate's lobbying reform bill is whether it
will accommodate reform of campaign financing, for instance through stiffer
regulations on "soft money," a resource Democrats are not readily going to
give up and Republicans are just as determined to foreclose. Soft-money
financing is known as 527 money, after a previous campaign financing reform
measure that fostered its growth.

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Also in the Senate, John McCain, R-Ariz., has not given up on lobbying
reform measures directed at tribes in the interest of greater transparency
around political contributions.


In round two of the annual debate over federal budgeting, the Senate
Committee on Indian Affairs has filed its views and estimates letter with
the Senate Committee on the Budget. The 18-page document and addenda
respond to President Bush's budget request for fiscal year 2007. Every
committee of Congress submits a views and estimates letter as guidance to
the Budget Committee, which weighs in with its decisions before the process
moves on to the Appropriations Committee. Ultimately, a budget resolution
must be agreed upon in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Sens. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and Tim
Johnson of South Dakota are among the Democrats on the Senate
Appropriations Committee; all are reliable champions of Indian country, and
they have Indian-friendly allies on the committee as well. Accordingly, the
prospect for restoring funding to Indian programs canceled or cut back by
the president has to be considered decent. But the federal budget for
fiscal year 2007, beginning in October, is very tight. One legislative
staff member on Capitol Hill summed up the budget process that will play
out this year in one word: "Grim."

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is urging the Bush administration to
support a budget resolution in support of reauthorizing the Indian Health
Care Improvement Act, settling the Cobell v. Norton litigation over Indian
trust funds, providing for annual adjustments in funding to the IHS and
meeting the dramatic need for infrastructure development throughout Indian

In particular, the committee suggests establishment of a reserve fund to
meet the expense of settling the trust funds litigation, and recommends the
restoration of funding for urban Indian health care, housing and technical
assistance for homeownership, the Johnson O'Malley education program,
school construction, construction of correctional and health facilities,
clean water, roads maintenance, contract support costs, welfare assistance,
law enforcement, land consolidation and youth suicide prevention.


Rep. Richard Pombo of California introduced a bill March 8 that would
outlaw "reservation shopping," defined in an accompanying press release as
"exploiting a loophole in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act" to acquire
off-reservation lands for gaming purposes.

"This will put local communities in control and encourage economic
opportunities for tribes at the same time," Pombo said of House Bill 4893.
Pombo, a Republican, chairs the House Resources Committee. The bill has
been posted on the Internet at

The bill would repeal the two-part determination test of IGRA that
currently permits tribes to meet stiff tests for acquiring off-reservation
trust land and then to establish casino operations there. The bill would
also provide for community participation at the front end of casino-siting
decisions, and require tribes to work with communities for the mitigation
of gaming's effects on local infrastructure. Finally, the bill would ban
tribal casinos outside a tribe's host state and create "Indian Gaming
Zones," in which a tribe could host another tribe's gaming facility on an
existing reservation that already allows gaming.