July 25, 2017; Indian Country Today
Despite the efforts by U.S. House appropriators to limit dramatic cuts before recess to American Indian programs proposed by the Trump administration, House Majority Leader Paul Ryan said the plan is to focus on a smaller spending bill emphasizing security issues, much to the chagrin of some other legislators, including some from his own party.
Appropriations approved a 2018 spending bill that would have increased Indian programs at the U.S. Department of the Interior by $10 million and the Indian Health Service by $97 million. House leaders told the Committee on Appropriations that their bill was being put on hold until after the House summer recess because they feared not enough Republican votes existed to pass the measure.
Trump’s plan calls for the elimination of approximately 241 Bureau of Indian Affairs positions. Indian education would lose $64.4 million, and funding to Indian social service, welfare assistance, and the Indian Child Welfare Act would drop by $23.3 million. Support for tribal justice programs would lose $21.4 million, and the $8 million housing program would be eliminated altogether. Other cuts: construction by $50.3 million, real estate services by $17.4 million, natural resource management programs by $27.3 million, and the Tribal Climate Resilience Awards will lose all its funding.
As the appropriations process in Congress proceeded, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke continued to champion President Trump’s proposed budget. “This is what a balanced budget looks like,” Zinke has said at various congressional hearings. Throughout his congressional testimony, he has reiterated that he believes American people want a balanced budget and that Trump’s plan will make it happen in 10 years. Zinke has not made it clear if this is a raw one-time reduction, if cuts would continue, or if funding would eventually increase again over the next nine years in the plan.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), who is on the appropriations committee, told various news outlets that he is disappointed with the decision not to move forward with a vote on the larger spending bill. He said, “Don’t balance the budget on the backs of the poorest citizens.”At a June 8th Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies hearing in which distress over the cuts to the Interior budget were expressed by both sides of the aisle, ranking member Betty McCollum (D-MN) led the charge for the Democrats against the cuts. She described the Trump proposal as “reckless” and one that “[endangers] our nation’s natural and cultural resources…one that guts funding for programs critical to appropriately manage public lands, it dishonors our commitment to Native Americans and rejects science.”
Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) said the bill makes critical investments in Indian country, which he describes as a top priority of the committee. He said funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Education is $381 million above the budget request, while funding for the Indian Health Service is $398 million above the budget request.
Overall, Calvert said, the Department of the Interior, which has jurisdiction over federal environmental and Indian agencies, would receive $31.5 billion for FY2018—$824 million less than allotted in FY2017, but more than $4 billion more than suggested by the Trump administration.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK), emeritus chair of the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, told Zinke at the hearing that it is Congress’s job to write the budget, not the president’s.
The House left on July 28th and the Senate left on August 3rd for recess after approving some nominees and bills. They will return after Labor Day.—Angie Wierzbicki