Funding bill holds the line for Indian Country ahead of Trump cuts

Secretary Ryan Zinke, the leader of the Department of the Interior, receives a tribal blessing during a visit to Yosemite National Park in California on April 13, 2017. Photo: SecretaryZinke

Lawmakers are moving forward with a massive funding bill that includes modest increases for Indian Country as tribes brace for cuts from President Donald Trump.

H.R.244, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, keeps the federal government up and running through the end of September. The $1 trillion package is expected to clear Congress ahead of a May 5 deadline.

The 1,665-page bill provides $2.9 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That represents a slight increase of $69 million, or about 2 percent, from the prior fiscal year.

Another $5.0 billion is going toward the Indian Health Service. That's a $232 million increase, or about 5 percent, from the 2016 level.

“As the vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I strongly support this bill’s investment in programs and services that benefit Native Americans,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), who took on the leadership role on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in January, said in a press release on Monday.

“The bill includes new funding for the Indian Health Service's efforts to treat substance abuse through detoxification centers, it will help make infrastructure improvements in Indian schools and hospitals, and it increases funding for initiatives to bolster Native arts,” Udall said.

The increases stand in marked contrast to the budget blueprint that Trump released in March. He's calling for a 12 percent cut at the Department of the Interior, the parent agency of the BIA, and another 17.9 percent cut at the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the IHS.

Trump, though, has yet to offer a detailed proposal for fiscal year 2018, which starts October 1. But key lawmakers, particularly those with close ties to Indian Country, have cautioned that Congress makes the final call when it comes to funding the government.

That's certainly the case with the spending bill, which was developed in order to avert a shutdown of the government. By staying the course at Interior and HHS, lawmakers aren't rushing to embrace Trump's agenda and, in some areas, such as funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, they are outright rejecting the new president's priorities.

Still, the White House announced on Tuesday that Trump is expected to sign the measure into law once it crosses his desk.

“More generally, the administration looks forward to working with the Congress to return to regular order for the FY 2018 appropriations process, and to enacting legislation that reflects the president’s priorities to keep our nation safe and create jobs and prosperity for American workers,” the White House said, signaling its intent to assert Trump's vision of government.

As for the current fiscal year, funding levels for most key tribal programs can be found in Division G of H.R.244. The 161-page section includes both the BIA and the IHS.

For the BIA, lawmakers placed priorities on Bureau of Indian Education schools, law enforcement, road maintenance and economic development, according to a summary prepared by the House Appropriations Committee.

At IHS, lawmakers focused on staffing at new facilities, contract support costs, medical inflation, as well as Indian Country's growing and aging population.

Explanations for the funding levels, as well as other policy directives, can be found in the Division G statement.

The House Rules Committee met on Tuesday afternoon to prepare H.R.244 for action on the floor of the House. There were no Indian specific amendments offered and no overt efforts were made to change the BIA and IHS funding levels.

“I am very proud of the work product,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, said at the meeting.

“We may disagree about a lot things but the government does have to run,” added Cole, who is one of just two enrolled tribal citizens in Congress.

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