But with the deadline fast approaching, Congress appears no closer to a solution. The breakdown has been traced to the U.S. House of Representatives, where the Republican majority has failed to advance any of the appropriations bills that keep federal agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service up and running. A small group of Republicans, in fact, has even prevented the chamber from passing a bill to fund the U.S. military, which is otherwise considered “must-pass” legislation on Capitol Hill regardless of who is in charge. Last week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California), who serves as Speaker of the House, was forced to abandon the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2024 after members of his own party revolted. “I think we made tremendous progress as an entire conference,” McCarthy said after a private meeting with his Republican colleagues on September 20. “We had a great discussion,” added McCarthy, who only a day later lost the vote on H.R.4365, the defense appropriations bill.
National Native Organizations Oppose Federal Shutdown – read the full joint statement.— National Congress of American Indians (@NCAI1944) September 22, 2023
🔗https://t.co/BPu1rwKV1L@NDNrights @WereNIEA @NCUIH_Official @TribalGovWorks @NIHB1 @naihc_national
American Indian Higher Education Consortium pic.twitter.com/DmeUT5ihem
The impasse has a number of Democrats advocating for a compromise. Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, is part of a group of lawmakers that’s been trying to work with McCarthy and the GOP leadership in their chamber to avert a shutdown. “There are only nine days until a government shutdown, but Congress has adjourned for the week without reaching a bipartisan deal to keep our federal government open or reauthorize important programs,” Davids said on Friday, highlighting the number of days before funding runs out. For Indian Country, a shutdown would represent a repeat of a disastrous funding impasse that lasted 35 days, the longest in U.S. history. Tribal leaders complained of a lack of communication from the then-Donald Trump administration that hindered a wide range of services, from health care to food distribution, in their communities. The 2019-2020 shutdown helped make the case for a significant policy achievement, one that had been on the agenda for years. At the end of 2022, tribes and their advocates celebrated when Congress — for the first time — passed an omnibus bill that provided advance appropriations for the IHS. The historic provision protects health care programs for more than two million American Indians and Alaska Natives during a government shutdown. “Including advance appropriations for Indian health in the omnibus is a historic moment for Indian Country over a decade in the making,” observed William Smith, an Alaska Native leader who serves as chairperson of the National Indian Health Board, one of the inter-tribal organizations that signed onto last week’s shutdown statement. But no sooner did the 118th Congress start in January 2023 did Republicans start complaining about the omnibus, setting the stage for the funding now playing out in the House. And in July, the GOP unveiled funding cuts for Indian Country programs, although they have maintained the advance appropriations provision for the IHS. The National Council of Urban Indian Health also signed the inter-tribal shutdown statement. The organization, which advocates for the urban Indian providers that receive funding from the IHS, has prepared a social media toolkit to draw attention to the struggle that puts American Indian and Alaska Native lives at risk. “With a government shutdown looming, we urge you to protect the Indian Health Service and Tribal programs,” one of the sample social media posts reads. “Fulfill your trust responsibility!” The most recent omnibus, the one with the IHS advance appropriations provision, funds the federal government for fiscal year 2023, which ends on September 30. So without additional action from Congress, most Indian Country programs will not be able to operate on October 1, the start of fiscal year 2024.
A government shutdown would have drastic consequences for hardworking Kansans. It’s not an option.— Rep. Sharice Davids (@RepDavids) September 22, 2023
I joined my @NewDemCoalition colleagues to urge the Speaker to abide by his promise to pass bipartisan legislation that protects Kansans’ jobs, health, and financial security. pic.twitter.com/ugnEtNvKcl
Well aware of the deadline, federal agencies have been preparing for a shutdown. The Department of the Interior, which includes the BIA, already postponed an upcoming stop on “The Road to Healing” that was to take testimony from survivors of the genocidal Indian boarding school era. Secretary Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna who is the first Native person to serve in a presidential cabinet, and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community, have not announced a new date for the event, which was to take place October 1 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Federal Boarding School Initiative is an ongoing investigation that is among the many programs that would be impacted by a shutdown. “Funding the government is one of the most basic responsibilities of Congress,” President Biden, who formerly served in the Senate, said in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. “It’s time for Republicans to start doing the job America elected them to do.” “Let’s get this done,” Biden told the Congressional Black Caucus.
PROTECT INDIAN COUNTRY: With a government shutdown looming, the National Council of Urban Indian Health has prepared a social media toolkit to protect funding for Indian Country programs. Learn more from @NCUIH_Official at https://t.co/lsc7ihUanR pic.twitter.com/fDQSN7unZj— indianz.com (@indianz) September 26, 2023
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