Federal Update October/December 2007

A hard push by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV to work budget bills through weekends and even Veterans Day floundered, giving way to other pressing schedules, e.g., the presidential campaign, and making another continuing resolution to extend past November 16 very probable. Whether or not the bills will be rolled up into an omnibus remains to be seen. But with no real movement of appropriations bills that, too, remains a very distinct possibility—which could mean status quo funding for another year.

In their current forms, both the House and Senate proposals top Bush’s request for BIA. They both include $7 million for the shellfish settlement, but from there they differ. The House figure is $4 million over the President’s request, but still short of restoring budget cuts. There will have to be a compromise on this amount with the Senate, as well as earmark strategies. The Senate bill includes an earmark for TFW/FFR of $1.74 million and $1.8 million to restore the Pacific Salmon Treaty Implementation dollars cut in Bush’s request. Neither bill includes mass marking monies, but Rep. Norm Dicks says he will see that the BIA provides funding to the tribes for this project. The bill doesn’t add funding for hatchery maintenance/rehabilitation. It reduces the forestry account that supports SSHIAP, but tribes have been assured by the BIA that SSHIAP will continue to be funded. The House bill includes $15 million for the Puget Sound Partnership in EPA’s budget, but the Senate only has $1 million. The Senate has included $90 million in the Commerce bill for the PCSRF, while the House bill has only $65 million.

To view the status of appropriations bills, click on http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app08.html.

Even if Bush’s proposed budgets fall well short of meeting tribal natural resources management needs, he apparently thinks of tribes in November. On Halloween Day, he issued a proclamation declaring November as National American Indian Heritage Month. "American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to shape our nation by preserving the heritage of their ancestors and by contributing to the rich diversity that is our country’s strength. Their dedicated efforts to honor their proud heritage have helped others gain a deeper understanding of the vibrant and ancient customs of the Native American community. We also express our gratitude to the American Indians and Alaska Natives who serve in our Nation’s military and work to extend the blessings of liberty around the world," the proclamation states. Bush said his administration is "committed to supporting the American Indian and Alaska Native cultures." He also said he is committed to the government-to-government relationship.

Over the past several months, the U.S. House and Senate have considered numerous pieces of energy legislation, some of which were filled with landmark energy and vehicle efficiency provisions designed to reduce global warming pollution. But right now, passage of final legislation is at a standstill. Nonetheless, in a recent speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Seattle, former President Bill Clinton urged that the fight against global warming be viewed as an economic opportunity. He told the mayors that fighting global warming is a chance to create good jobs and give an economic boost to the middle class, to save cities and residents money with improved energy-efficiency. "It is a godsend," he said. "It is not castor oil that we have to drink. It is in my view, for the United States, the greatest economic opportunity that we’ve had since we mobilized for World War II. And if we do it right, it will produce job gains and income gains substantially greater than those produced in the 1990s when I had the privilege to be president."

Presidential Candidate John Edwards set the pace in global warming for his competitors recently when he came out against the current version of the global warming legislation being pushed by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-CT (S.280) and John Warner, R-VA (H.R.620). Edwards pointed out that this is the major global warming legislation moving in Congress and it is deeply flawed. The legislation gives away $436 billion worth of pollution permits to corporate polluters in the coal and fossil fuels industries. It gives away 76 percent of carbon credits in the first year. It also sends hundreds of billions of dollars worth of auction revenue back to the coal industry over the years. Instead of rewarding polluters, environmentalists say auction revenues should be used for things like energy efficiency, clean transportation, offsetting the bill’s costs for the poor, and adaptation for a warming planet. They also say the bill fails to adequately address global warming. Scientists say that to avoid catastrophe, we must launch an immediate effort to cut global warming pollution to 80 to 90 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. This bill takes a long time to get started and undershoots the 2050 goal by 20 percent. 

By a 79-14 vote, the Senate has overridden a veto by Bush, enacting a $23 billion Water Resources Development Act bill into law over his objections. The override had long been expected, since the Senate approved the conference report on the bill by an 81-12 vote in late September. The House voted 361-54 to override the veto, setting the stage for the Senate vote. The WRDA package, H.R.1495, includes Army Corps of Engineers water infrastructure projects from around the country (including the Green/Duwamish and projects in eastern Washington and hundreds of other critical projects throughout the country resulting from hurricane damage, floods and deteriorated wetlands). The incident is reflective of an increasingly confrontational Bush and it may be a sign of things to come from Congress. Bush has used the veto five times. Four of those have been since the democrats took control of Congress in January. Hypocritically, his rationale in vetoing the legislation was fiscal irresponsibility. Rather than admitting to being a pot calling a kettle black, he made the bill part of a broader effort to take on Democratic leaders frequently and more pointedly. The water project legislation originally approved by the Senate would have cost $14 billion and the House version would have totaled $15 billion. Bush and a few Republicans complained that the final version was larded with unneeded pet projects pushed by individual lawmakers – sending the overall cost of the bill much higher. "Only in Washington could the House take a $14 billion bill into a conference with the Senate’s $15 billion bill and emerge with a compromise that costs taxpayers over $23 billion," said White House press secretary Dana Perino.

The Senate has confirmed Bush appointee Michael Mukasey for U.S. Attorney General. Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and other members of the committee had expressed grave concerns about the candidate, though Senators Charles Schumer, D- NY and Dianne Feinstein, D-CA followed through on their decision to confirm him. Joined by the republican members of the committee, the two democrats’ votes put Mukasey over the top. The focal issue on the nomination was water boarding—an interrogation technique that human rights groups describe as torture. Mukasey, a former federal judge, had responded to questions about the technique in a vague and non-committal manner. Research conducted by Federal Update revealed very few indicators of how the candidate might approach any tribal issues, beyond some priority placed on intellectual property protection by his current law. A recent editorial by the New York Times held that the Constitution and federal statute are the supreme law of the land—the same supreme law intended to enforce treaties—and that the president is not above this law.

The West Coast Agreement on Ocean Health, a tri-state governor-to-governor level agreement developed in response to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and Pew Ocean reports, is finally available for review. See the agreement by clicking on the following website link: <http://westcoastoceans.gov/images/clear.gif>. From initial glance, it appears that the interaction with tribes on this agreement has been less than stellar. Although there are apparently good things happening with this agreement, tribal inclusion is almost nil. Tribes are mentioned a few times in the agreement, but they are omitted in several instances where they could be specifically acknowledged, e.g., in science/data sharing, government-to-government relations and direct tribal funding. The agreement is under more intensive review and a response being drafted (the deadline is December 1). NWIFC will share its analysis with tribes in the near future.

Some Native Hawaiians have come out against the Native Hawaiian Recognition Act, H.R. 505, which has passed the House by a vote of 261 – 153. The bill is designed to afford Native Hawaiians the same self-governance rights held by American Indians and Alaska Natives. Opponents say it will place Hawaiian governance under the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Supreme Court today said it would consider whether Exxon Mobil Corp. should pay punitive damages for one of the costliest oil spills in history. The company was originally ordered to pay $5 billion after the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground and spilled 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. A federal appeals court cut the amount in half. In the case it took today, the high court will determine whether the company should pay any punitive damages. The case will be heard next spring.

Schaefer Nominated Agriculture Secretary
Bush has announced his nomination of former North Dakota Gov. Edward Schafer to be his next Agriculture Secretary. Schafer, who served two terms as governor but chose not to run again in 2000, will replace Mike Johanns, who resigned as secretary last month to run for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. USDA has been led in the interim by acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner.

Investing in Washington’s Farmers
Senator Maria Cantwell has announced that the 2007 Farm Bill was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee—a bill that includes strong provisions to benefit Washington state farmers.  Washington farmers grow more than 250 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and specialty crops such as apples, cherries, and asparagus.  The state is ranked first in the nation in the production of these specialty crops which are huge economic drivers, providing for over 50 percent of the state’s agriculture economy. Senator Cantwell said her top priority in this year’s Farm Bill was working through the Finance Committee to make sure that local farmers got “the help they need.”  

Recently introduced legislation in the House, sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, would protect the opportunity for scientific study of ancient remains such as Kennewick Man. He proposed the legislation in response to a bill quietly approved by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last month that Hastings said would effectively block the scientific study of ancient skeletal remains discovered on federal lands. "This change, tucked into what is being called a technical corrections bill, is very far from a minor ‘technical correction,’" Hastings said of the Senate bill. "It is a fundamental shift in existing law and would overturn a decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals." In 2004, eight years after the 9,300-year-old bones of Kennewick Man were found on the banks of the Columbia River, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the bones would not be turned over to the tribes. Instead, scientists were allowed to study them. The ruling found that Congress had intended the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, to apply to remains only if a significant relationship could be shown to present-day tribes.

Jamestown S’Klallam Chair Ron Allen was among those who testified on H.R. 3994 on November 8 before the House Resources Committee. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Boren, D-OK, would amend the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to provide further self-governance by tribes. The bill authorizes Interior to enter into compacts with tribes to manage federal programs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of Special Trustee and other Interior bureaus, offices and agencies are covered. Chairman Allen supported the legislation, and described the major benefits Self-Governance has brought to participating tribes. Access his and other testimony at this link: http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/index.php?option=com_jcalpro&Itemid=54&extmode=view&extid=124 (Click on the names of the individual panel members.) Click on the following link to access the bill itself: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.03994:   


The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, H.R.505 by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-HA passed committee and was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar on October 26. (The Senate version of the bill, S.310 by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-HA, was ordered reported from the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in May.) This legislation addresses the policy of the United States with Native Hawaiians and seeks to provide a recognition process for a Native Hawaiian governing entity. The bills are generating a lot of attention in the nation’s capitol as this is farther than they have ever progressed. The legislation establishes the U.S. Office for Native Hawaiian Relations within the Office of the Secretary of the Interior establishes the Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordinating Group and recognizes the right of the Native Hawaiian people to provide for their common welfare and adopt appropriate organic governing documents.

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