Sen. Jon Tester, IHS


Sen. Jon Tester questioning Indian Health Service Acting Director Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, Zuni

Sen. Jon Tester on IHS Budget Cuts Video Goes Viral

Tester: ‘If you guys don’t advocate for a budget how the hell are we supposed to fix it?’

Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, was apoplectic by the time he finished questioning Indian Health Service Acting Director Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, Zuni, during Wednesday’s Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal for IHS.

Tester repeatedly asked Weahkee whether the proposed budget included an increase or a decrease in spending for hiring additional staff, which Weahkee had identified as IHS’s top priority. Despite Tester’s direct questioning, Weahkee simply refused to answer, saying instead that the agency was prioritizing maintaining direct services and that tough decisions had to be made.

By the end of the exchange, Tester was virtually yelling. “I have never had, in 10 years on this committee, I have never had somebody come up here and when I ask them a direct question they don’t answer it. I asked you a direct question on whether this budget was up or down and you would not answer it, you refused to answer it. That is totally unacceptable,” he said.

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The proposed budget cuts $300 million from IHS funding. This, combined with cuts to Medicaid included in both the House and Senate versions of bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, could have a devastating impact on Indian health in general and the Indian Health Service in particular.

Another question from Tester that Weahkee refused to answer was how much IHS had received in Medicaid reimbursements, even though that number is public information. In 2016, IHS informed ICMN a few weeks ago, the agency “collected over $659 million in reimbursements for services provided by IHS federal government facilities and programs to IHS patients who are also enrolled in Medicaid. This comprised over two-thirds of total third-party reimbursements to IHS that year.”

Tester expressed outrage that Weahkee seemed to be refusing to advocate for Indian people’s health and welfare, leaving senators with no way to argue for rejecting the president’s cuts. “If you guys don’t advocate for a budget how the hell are we supposed to fix it?” he asked.

One of the most disturbing consequences of Weahkee’s testimony was embodied in Tester’s final comments on his performance during the hearing, which was evocative of the all-too-common stance of blaming Indians for failed federal Indian policy. “Indian health services is in a crisis and if you have served in Indian Health services for 10 years and you have answered the questions in Indian health service like you have here today, there is no wonder it is in a crisis,” said Tester.

  • Again, Indian Country Today puts out an article with a title that’s over-the-top. I don’t think anyone considers a video that’s received only 11,000+ views on YouTube as anything near “Viral”.
    So what’s up with Indian Country Today? Why do they continually put out titles that are gross exaggerations of reality? I really doesn’t speak well of anyone who feels the need to constantly lie about what’s really going on. Have the so-called “red men” at Indian Country Today adopted the “white man’s” world so much that they feel lying, exaggerating, putting out false info, etc. is acceptable behavior? I don’t recall that behavior being considered as acceptable for anyone on the Red Road.
    You can continue with the hysterics, which will eventually make you obsolete as hysteria really doesn’t have much to do with reality or Truth. It is Truth that all people seek … not your extremism, not your hysterics, not your biases.
    Tanya Lee may want the video to go viral, but with only 11,000 + views, it isn’t even close. She may ask her readers to help make the vid go viral, but to state that it is, when it isn’t is really disingenuous, and shows a lack of respect for herself as well as her audience. Shame on you, Tanya Lee. You are free to mature any time.

  • Constance W.

    New subscriber, white, female, old enough to be anyone’s grandmother. Not a wanna-be Indian but lifelong lover — and liver — of Native American/Canadian traditional life-way and values. Shameless lover of the lives and wisdom of Frank Fools Crow, John Lame Deer, Black Elk and many others; equally in gratitude for the European writers who, I want to believe, vindicate, if only a fraction, our race’s unspeakable sins with their recordings the blessed elders as spoken and expressed. This said, I commend the commentator for holding ICT and its writers accountable to the very values they exist to uphold. The fear-based, ego-diseases of domination, greed, depersonalization and arrogance have spread world-wide, contaminating every culture – but not every human in them. It takes courage to go against the grain – but do go! You’ll never know how many of us are here until until you do.

  • Rick S.

    It seems that Tester wasn’t “blaming Indians for failed federal Indian policy,” he was blaming the Acting Director of Indian Health Services, THE person who SHOULD be advocating for a larger budget.

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Sen. Jon Tester on IHS Budget Cuts Video Goes Viral