Donald Trump wants to take $300 million away from the Indian Health Service budget and senators are livid.
The IHS is an organization that is already severely under-funded, which became abundantly clear in a recent Wall Street Journal article highlighting a slew of fatal misdiagnoses, under-treatments, unqualified staff members and dangerously high prescriptions from the organization charged with providing medical care for Native Americans.
On Wednesday, Trump’s IHS Director Michael Weahkee had to face the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. He had a rough time, to say the least.
“These are our facilities that are supposed to care for our first people,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. “And the stories that were detailed were shocking ”
Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, suggested renaming the organization “Indian Health Suffering.”
But things didn’t get really exciting until Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, took the mic.
He started off calm, but suspicious.
“Were you told not to answer any questions here, by the way?” he asked.
Weahkee insisted that no, he had been told no such thing. And then proceeded not to answer questions for the rest of Tester’s questioning.
Weahkee had previously stated that the biggest problem facing the IHS is the ability to hire staff.
Logically, Tester’s main question was this:
“What does this budget do to your ability to hire staff?”
Which was met with a non-answer:
“We have a lot of efforts under way,” Weahkee replied.
Tester asked a variation of the same question six more times, growing more irate with every rephrasing.
“Look, come on man, just answer the question,” he said around time five. “I’ll back you until your guts cave if the administration comes after you, but is it an increase or a decrease?”
“I have never had, in ten 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,” Tester was eventually shouting. “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. I did not come in here with my hair on fire, but I am leaving here with it.”
Trump has yet to permanently appoint anyone to chair the IHS.