WASHINGTON, D.C. - A call to put pressure on the House of Representatives to take up the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was made June 18 at the U.S. Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee meeting at the Capitol.
Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly was one of several invited tribal leaders who attended a specially called meeting where eight U.S. Senators met at the Mansfield Capitol room to dialogue with tribal leaders on the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
"Senators, thank you for the work you've done in Congress on behalf of all Native American people," Vice President Shelly said. "We support you and your commitment to passing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act."
The Indian Health Care Improvement Act was passed by the Senate in February and is now awaiting House action. The second session of the two-year 110th Congress is set to end this December. Congressional bills that do not pass will have to be introduced in the 111th Congress that begins in January 2009.
"We ask for support for HR 1328," said Vice President Shelly, referring to the House version of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. "Particularly we're asking to maintain Section 301, the health facilities construction priority system funding."
The Navajo Nation, for 30 years, has worked to place hospital construction projects according to the Indian Health Service priority system.
Other tribes, have very recently, asked Congress to change the ranking system.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, implored tribal leaders to place pressure on the House of Representatives to pass the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
"You need to get the House of Representatives to make this happen," he said.
Vice President Shelly emphasized the need for reauthorization of the Public Health Service Act to include special diabetes in the reauthorization. The proposed legislation reauthorizes the program for one year. The Navajo Nation is instead asking for a five-year reauthorization to be funded at more than $200 million a year - a total of $1 billion.
Among the eight Democrat U.S. Senators who attended today's meeting were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, Byron L. Dorgan, D-ND, Daniel Akaka, D-HI, Tim Johnson, D-SD, Jon Tester, D-MT, Patty Murray, D-WA, and Benjamin Cardin, D-MD.
"The Bureau of Indian Affairs has a 36-step process," said Sen. Dorgan. "If you observe the BIA and an ice glacier you can actually see the glacier move," said Sen. Dorgan.
Sen. Dorgan has criticized the burdensome government procedures it takes for businesses on tribal land to get started.
Other legislation the Democrat Steering and Outreach Committee briefed tribal leaders on was the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act, a reauthorization bill for Indian housing programs. The Navajo Nation is petitioning the bill to be considered in the House and passed without amendments.
Vice President Shelly petitioned for the Senate to increase funding for tribal jails and court facilities.
The Democrat Steering Committee of the U.S. Senate, lead by Sen. Harry Reid, is committed to creating dialogue and relationships between the Democrat Caucus and community leaders, including tribes, while promoting Democrat party policy priorities.
Vice President Shelly was accompanied by Navajo Nation Washington Office lawyer Randall Simmons, who oversees health care legislation.
Following the Senate leadership meeting Vice President Shelly met with Navajo Nation Council Delegates Davis Filford of the Mexican Water, Aneth, and Red Mesa chapters, and Lena Manheimer, of Inscription House and Navajo Mountain chapters.