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Budget resolution barely clears House vote
Friday, March 26, 2004

The House narrowly approved a $2.4 trillion budget resolution on Thursday that an Arizona Congressman says shortchanges Indian Country.

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) was one of 10 Republicans who joined Democrats in rejecting the measure but it passed by a vote of 215 to 212. The first-term Congressman said the budget does not provide adequate funds for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and veterans' care.

"My district is home to the largest concentration of Native Americans in the nation, I could not bring myself to vote for a budget that did not fully address their uniquely severe situation," Renzi said.

Renzi represents a large part of the Navajo Nation and the White Mountain Apache and San Carlos reservations. In December, he visited a BIA school on the Navajo Nation that is in line for replacement construction funds.

"Students enrolled in BIA schools deserve to learn in better classrooms at modern facilities. We need to give these students the tools and the technical training to compete and succeed within today's modern workforce," Renzi said. "BIA education funding in the current budget needs to be raised."

The resolution approved yesterday sets the federal government's spending levels for the coming fiscal year and the four years following. It closely follows the request President Bush submitted in February.

Under the proposal, the BIA takes a 2.5 percent cut in fiscal year 2005. Education programs will see an overall reduction of $79 million, $65 million of which impacts the account used to repair and replace ailing Indian schools.

In contrast, the IHS is seeing an overall increase of 1.6 percent, although one item -- construction of new hospitals, clinics and other facilities -- will be reduced by $52 million due to completion of certain projects. Renzi said this cut jeopardizes American Indians and Alaska Natives.

"With tribal health care costs increasing at rates faster than that of inflation, under-funding future construction of IHS hospitals reduces the ability for Native Americans to receive urgent-care and emergency medical services," he said.

Democrats in the House offered three alternatives to the budget resolution that would revoke some of Bush's tax cuts and use the money to reduce the federal deficit and increase spending for domestic programs, including health and education. These were defeated along with a proposal by some Republicans to rein in spending.

In recent weeks, tribal leaders have blasted the Bush administration's spending plans as reckless. Officials plan to slash the BIA budget by six percent over the next two years, the largest since the Reagan era.

"I don't know what it will take to get through to this administration," said Joe Shirley Jr., president of the Navajo Nation, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Shirley and nearly two dozen tribal leaders have written a letter to President Bush, seeking face-to-face consultation on the upcoming budgets.

"There's a war going on in the United States," Shirley added. "Our war is against poverty, against greed, against impoverishment, against unemployment."

The Senate earlier this month passed a $2.4 trillion budget resolution after Republicans rejected a $3.44 billion boost to the IHS. The chamber approved a $292 million increase instead.

The Senate resolution differs from the House one in a key respect. Any new tax cuts in the next five years must be approved by at least 60 out of 100 senators. House Republicans oppose this provision.

Fiscal year 2005 begins October 1. Funding for the BIA and IHS will be contained in the Interior Appropriations bill. Members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee who also site on the Appropriations Committee say they will work to increase spending for Indian programs.

"We have a lot to say about what is increased and what is decreased," d Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) said last month.

Get the Resolution:
Congressional Budget for the U.S. Government for FY 2005
(H. Con. Res. 393)

Roll Call:
On Agreeing to the Resolution (March 25, 2004)

Relevant Documents:
DOI Budget Memo (March 12, 2004) | Tribal Leaders Letter to Bush (March 23, 2004)

Relevant Links:
Rep. Rick Renzi - http://www.house.gov/renzi

Related Stories:
Bush drops budget 'bombshell' on Indian Country (3/24)
BIA education programs taking $79 million hit (3/23)
Indian educators meet for legislative summit (3/22)
Proposed boost in IHS budget rejected by Senate (03/12)
Cuts run deep for tribal programs at BIA (03/09)
Senate panel shares criticism of Bush budget (02/12)
Tribal leaders pressing Congress on funding (02/11)
Bush seeks $3 billion for Indian Health Service (02/03)
Daschle criticizes Bush on Indian health funds (02/03)
Daschle asks Bush to increase funding for IHS (12/18)
Democrats lay out plan for minority and Indian health (10/22)
Daschle: Improve Health Care in Indian Country (10/15)
Senate votes down health and trust measures (09/24)
Senate rejects one IHS funding measure, passes another (03/26)
Tribes told to explore health funding options (02/05)
Thompson releases new IHS budget (2/4)
Indian Country receives diabetes grants (12/11)
Congress approves $750M for Indian diabetes (11/21)

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