Hawaiian sovereignty faces strong House opposition
The U.S. House has voted not to continue authorizing funds for Hawaiian housing.
A bill to reauthorize federal funding for Hawaiian housing hit a bump in the road
, but more serious roadblocks might occur if Hawaiian sovereignty continues to be denied. A House vote on the housing bill indicates that the sovereignty measure could lack congressional support to overcome a veto by President Bush, which might force sovereignty proponents to look toward the next administration for more favorable consideration.
The House vote of 262-162 in favor of the housing bill fell short of the two-thirds vote needed for passage under a special House procedure -- and also needed to override a presidential veto of the sovereignty bill proposed by Sen. Daniel Akaka. Republicans followed the advice of GOP Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who maintained that the housing measure was unconstitutional, which is precisely the contention by opponents of the Akaka Bill.
Boehner is wrong in stating that benefits for Hawaiians violate the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Rice v. Cayetano, which disallowed Hawaiians-only voting for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees. In the Rice ruling, the court pointed out that congressional funding of Hawaiian programs "is a matter of dispute" and that the court "can stay far off that difficult terrain."
However, opponents of the Akaka Bill have inferred as much. William E. Moschella, the assistant attorney for legislative affairs, said in a letter four years ago that inclusion of Hawaiians among native Americans as recipients of funding for small-business startups and expansions "raises significant constitutional concerns."
The Senate voted 56-41 last year in favor of proceeding with the Akaka Bill -- short of the 60 votes needed. On the eve of the vote, a letter by Moschella to then-Majority Leader Bill Frist made clear that the Bush administration opposes the Akaka Bill because it would "divide people by their race."
Rep. Neil Abercrombie said he now recognizes "an element in the Republican Party that is hell-bent on attacking Hawaiians as symbolic of their opposition to native interests," and he should plan accordingly. Future measures aimed at funding Hawaiian programs probably are not threatened as long as they are attached to other bills that are not controversial.
The housing bill that fell short of the votes needed would have reauthorized $10 million a year in federal block grant money for projects providing housing assistance to Hawaiians. Abercrombie said he plans to bring the bill back to the House floor as early as this week under a standard procedure that requires a simple majority for passage.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that both federal and state funding are safe from taxpayer lawsuits, although they may be challenged by people claiming to have been denied benefits because of race. Enactment of the Akaka Bill is needed to protect Hawaiian programs from such congressional and court challenges.
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