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Congress Gives Tribes A Double Whammy

American Indian tribes suffered a double defeat Wednesday as a new gambling tax headed toward the House floor and congressional negotiators restored only part of a cut in tribal funding.

House and Senate negotiators neared approval Wednesday of a compromise appropriations bill that would restore $86 million of the $255 million the Senate sliced from the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ budget. That would leave the agency’s 1996 budget 10 percent lower than this year’s.

On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a tax on the earnings from Indian casinos to raise $345 million to help balance the federal budget.

Indian leaders say the BIA cut will destroy tribal governments, which rely on agency funds for their day-to-day operations.

“On the one hand we’re being asked to be self-sufficient. On the other hand, every time we move toward self-sufficiency, we’re getting cut off,” said Albert Hale, president of the Navajo Nation. “It’s inconsistent and it’s just not equitable.”

A BIA spokesman said the agency would go ahead with plans to lay off thousands of employees.

The budget cut would cripple the agency, said Ada Deer, assistant interior secretary for Indian affairs. “It is unrealistic to expect the Bureau of Indian Affairs to carry out its trust and other obligations without adequate resources.”

The new gambling tax, which came as a shock to Indian leaders when it was proposed late last week, would fall especially hard on tribes in Minnesota and Connecticut, where casinos near large urban areas have been particularly successful.