Indianz.Com > News > ‘This is a hard bill’: Republicans cut back on federal funding
House Committee on Appropriations: Subcommittee Markup of Fiscal Year 2024 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Bill
‘This is a hard bill’
Republicans are cutting back on federal funding
Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Republican lawmakers are making no excuses when it comes to cutting back funding for the federal government’s operations. How is Indian Country affected?

An appropriations bill that funds the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) is inching its way through the U.S. House of Representatives. Leaders in the GOP-controlled chamber are being up-front about the cuts that they are proposing throughout the U.S. government.

“I’ll be real honest with you,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said at a markup last week. “If you’re looking for a pretty bill, this is not it.”

“This is a hard bill,” continued Simpson, a leader on the House Committee on Appropriations, one of the most powerful legislative panels in the U.S. Congress. “Frankly, it’s a necessary bill. Cutting funding is never easy and can often be an ugly process.”

Indianz.Com Audio: House Committee on Appropriations – House Subcommittee Markup of Fiscal Year 2024 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Bill – July 13, 2024

During the markup on July 13, Simpson outlined a whopping 35 percent cut in funding for the appropriations bill he is responsible for. But he insisted that the Indian Country programs aren’t being sacrificed in the Republican-led purge.

“The bill fulfills our commitments to tribes by funding the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and Indian Health Service accounts at fiscal year 2023 levels or above,” said Simpson.

Simpson also pointed out that his bill maintains a policy achievement that tribes secured in the last session of Congress. The IHS is being funded in advance — to ensure that the federal government fulfills its trust and treaty responsibilities in the event of a government shutdown or other type of impasse on Capitol Hill.

“In addition, the bill provides a fiscal year 2025 advance for the Indian Health Service,” said Simpson.

Simpson credited Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) with securing advance appropriations for the IHS. Tribes and their advocates fought for the policy provision for more than a decade before it became reality at the end of 2022, with the support of President Joe Biden and his Democratic administration.

“I was relieved to see that the bill continues the advance appropriations for the Indian Health Service, and I want to thank the chair for his commitment to the BIA — and to all Indian funding — and sticking with his word on that,” Pingree said of her dealings with Simpson, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

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Despite the praise, Pingree argued that the U.S. government still isn’t living up to its word to tribes and their citizens. She criticized her Republican colleagues for imposing widespread cuts, comparing the situation to the one that has long faced the IHS, which has suffered from underfunding for generations.

“Advance appropriations for Indian health was put in place by the Democrats last year,” said Pingree, who is the highest-ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. “Now, the truth of the matter is if Congress did its job, advance appropriations would be unnecessary. But unfortunately, House Republicans are showing us why such a backstop is crucial.”

Two other Democrats — Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), the ranking member of the full House Committee on Appropriations and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), a longtime champion of Indian Country’s issues — also welcomed the continuation of advance appropriations for the IHS. But both questioned the bill due to funding cuts and the inclusion of policy riders they said would harm the health and well-being of all Americans.

“With its cuts, indefensible riders and absurd rescissions, the majority, I believe, has subverted the relevance of the Appropriations Committee,” DeLauro said in reference to the Republican leadership.

Republicans released the fiscal year 2024 bill for the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on July 12. According to the committee, the measure includes a total of $25.417 billion in discretionary funding — which represents a 35 percent from the amount approved at the end of last year, when Democrats were still in control of the House.

And even though Simpson said the BIA, the BIE and the IHS aren’t being pared back, the figures in his bill are indeed lower than the ones requested by President Biden. For example, while the IHS would get an additional $149.4 million for a total of $7.078 billion, the figure is still $2.2 billion below the amount sought by the executive branch, whose role is to propose the government’s budget.

Additionally, the advance appropriation amount of $4.902 billion for the IHS actually represents a cut of $227.9 million, according to the National Indian Health Board (NIHB), the largest inter-tribal health advocacy organization.

Further, as alluded to by Pingree, the U.S. government isn’t quite doing its job when it comes to Indian Country. The NIHB’s National Budget Formulation Workgroup has called for $51.42 billion in funding for the IHS, an amount nowhere near being realized by official Washington.

Besides the IHS, the bill includes $2.582 billion for the IHS, according to House Republicans. The figure is $141.4 million above current levels — but $66.1 million below the amount requested by Biden.

The bill also provides $1.399 billion for the BIE. The amount is “comparable” to current levels, according to House Republicans, but is still $211.1 million below the president’s request.

The next stop for the measure is a full committee markup on Wednesday. With Republicans outnumbering Democrats on the panel, the bill is expected to be approved at the session.

After the markup, the bill would need to be passed by the entire House of Representatives. But even then, the U.S. Senate, which is under Democratic control, would still need to weigh in — meaning the Republican cuts and policy riders are still up for additional debate as the appropriations process continues.

A new fiscal year officially begins every October 1. However, Congress has been unable to enact most appropriations bills into law before that date, so lawmakers have resorted to continuing resolutions in order to keep federal agencies like the BIA and the BIE in operation, instead of shutting down.

Then — in the final weeks of the session in December of every year — members of Congress come up with “omnibus” measures, filled with thousands and thousands of pages of funding levels and other provisions. The last such appropriations bill was signed into law by President Biden on December 23, 2022. The law included advance appropriations for IHS for the first time.