Washington in brief


Markey floats his name for Resources Committee chairmanship

In an unexpected development, Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts has become a candidate for the chairmanship of the Resources Committee in the House of Representatives, according to multiple low-profile print and televised sources.

When voters gave Democrats a majority of House seats in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, they also gave them the chairman’s gavel on every House committee. In most cases, the ranking Democrat on a committee, designated the vice chairman under a Republican majority, can expect to become the chairman under a Democratic majority. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is the ranking Democrat on Resources, the committee of jurisdiction for legislative items that principally involve the Interior Department. That portfolio includes a majority of Indian-specific items that come before the House. Rahall issued a Nov. 9 release indicating his ambition to chair the Resources Committee.

Speaker of the House-elect Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has stated that seniority will determine the pecking order for committee chairmanships. Markey and Rahall are both 30-year House members, but Markey has a two-month edge by virtue of first reaching Congress via special election.

In a week abbreviated by the Thanksgiving holiday, the National Congress of American Indians did not respond to a request for comment. Likewise, Markey’s office did not offer clarification of his candidacy.

Funding resolution means December lame-duck session

Lawmakers left Washington for the Thanksgiving holiday after presenting the president with a continuing resolution on the budget that will fund government operations through Dec. 8. Congress is scheduled to reconvene on Dec. 4 and take up the nation’s business again Dec. 5. To keep the government running after Dec. 8, it must either pass another continuing resolution on the budget or approve a series of appropriations bills that would finalize the federal budget for fiscal year 2007, already in progress.

The lame-duck session, so called from the presence of congressional members who lost their Nov. 7 elections and will be out of power when the 110th Congress convenes in January, has been long on activity and short on accomplishments to date. December will be the last chance for the outgoing Republican majority to enact its priorities into law in the current 109th Congress. But observers from across the political spectrum have detected a flagging appetite for complex action in a dispirited GOP. In particular, lawmakers have been disappointed by a small faction of budget-watchers in the Senate who have blocked efforts to pass a large budget bill filled with “earmark” funding for pet projects in home states and districts.

Indian tribes and organizations continue to keep the night watches, as it were, for under-the-radar efforts to pass amendments on Indian gaming and the trust funds litigation. They also continue to press for regular passage of three major bills: the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has not given up on reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, a bill to settle the litigation over the Individual Indian Money trust has an outside chance, and a bill promoting Native language immersion schooling lingers in the Senate.

Abramoff begins prison term

Criminal ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff spent Thanksgiving in prison, by all accounts housed with drug offenders in a cinder block dormitory. He reported Nov. 15 to the medium-security federal penitentiary in Cumberland, Md., scheduled to serve almost five years on fraud charges that stem from his acquisition of a fleet of gambling boats in Florida.

He faces a separate prison term for bribery and other crimes on Capitol Hill, where his activities included directing tribal donations to lawmakers in return for official favors. His misdeeds have been exhaustively chronicled, though by no one more than Abramoff himself as he cooperates with Justice Department investigators in hopes of a lighter prison sentence on the Hill-related charges. Justice attorneys had previously been able to delay his report date in recognition of his extensive cooperation, but this time a federal judge ordered him to prison. Even so, he is in Maryland because its proximity to Washington will accommodate his role in the DOJ’s ongoing investigations.