"All I want are some damn answers": Tester blasts IHS Director d - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF | KWYB

"All I want are some damn answers": Tester blasts IHS Director during hearing

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During a Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Wednesday regarding President Donald Trump's proposed budget, Montana's Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester blasted the Acting Indian Health Service Director Michael Weahkee for not answering a direct question. 

Tester asked Weahkee multiple times if funding would be increased or decreased for more staffing in the future. While both men agreed that staffing is a priority, Weahkee refused to answer the question when asked. 

Here is part of the conversation, sent to KFBB from Senator Tester's office:

Tester: “What does this budget do to your ability to hire staff?”

Weahkee: “We have a lot of efforts underway.”

Tester: “Is there increase in dollars for hiring staff or a decrease?”

Weahkee: “We prioritize maintaining direct care services.”

Tester: “Okay as far as total dollars go is there an increase in dollars for hiring staff or a decrease?”

Weahkee: “Our priority has been on insuring that we can continue to.”

Tester: “I guess you don’t get my question. You said it is a number one issue facing, and I agree with you by the way. So does the budget increase the number of dollars for hiring people or is it a decrease? I would assume you would know that.”

Weahkee: “Well sir we have had to make a lot of tough decisions.”

Tester: “Okay, so it’s a decrease is that what you are saying?”

Weahkee: “No sir I did not say that.”

Tester: “So is it? Look, come on man, just answer the question. I’ll back you until your guts cave if the administration comes after you, but is it an increase or a decrease?”

Weahkee: “We are really prioritizing our direct services.”

After another minute or so of continued back and forth, Tester said, "“Wow. I am not even going to go into facilities, I’m not going to go into what is going on with mental health, I’m not going to go into what is the problem with drugs. I will tell you that with the previous IHS staff I remember giving a speech similar to what the chairman did and that is that if you guys don’t advocate for a budget how the hell are we supposed to fix it. 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. 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. I am going to tell you something, Indian health services is in a crisis and if you have served in Indian Health services for ten 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. I cannot believe what has transpired in this hearing today. All I want are some damn answers, that’s it. And if we cannot get answers from Indian health where do we go to get those answers? I don’t expect you to answer that either. This is an unbelievable hearing, I just got to tell you I have not had one like this in my tenure in here. When I ask a question, I want an answer. It’s unbelievable.”

KFBB reached out to Indian Health Services for comment; Acting Director Weahkee says, "We appreciate the Committee members' support of the IHS mission and their desire to assist us in providing American Indians and Alaska Natives with access to quality health care.  We welcome the opportunity to work with the Committee and will continue our communication with the members to include responding with the information requested during today’s hearing.”

According to Senator Tester's office, the President's proposed budget will cut funding for IHS by $300 million.

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