Congress goes on break again after failing to pass spending bills

The headquarters of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the parent agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Congress went on break for another six weeks without acting on funding for Indian Country.

Instead, lawmakers on Wednesday night gave final approval to a "continuing resolution" that keeps the federal government running through December 9. The move averts a shutdown and came ahead of a deadline of October 1, which marks the start of fiscal year 2017.

"I have said many times before, a continuing resolution is a last resort. But, it is what we must do to fulfill our congressional responsibility to keep the lights on in our government," Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

Congress has failed to pass an appropriations bill for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and other Indian programs since 2009. Lawmakers have instead negotiated "omnibus" packages that fail to include all of the increases that President Barack Obama and Democrats have sought for tribal needs.

Lawmakers are now scheduled to return to work after the November 8 presidential election. They are again planning to take up another "omnibus" appropriations measure before the end of the year.

"The continuing resolution ... extends current federal spending rates through December 9th, which is sufficient time for Congress to negotiate and enact an omnibus consisting of each of the remaining 11 appropriations bills," Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a stateement.

The continuing resolution is H.R.5325. It maintains funding for the BIA, the IHS and other Indian programs at current levels, meaning no increases are provided.

Despite the lack of progress, H.R.5325 includes a new provision regarding veterans care in Alaska. It authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs to enter into contracts with tribes and tribal organizations to "provide healthcare, including behavioral health and dental care, to veterans in rural Alaska."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, said the provision enables tribes to offer services in places the VA cannot reach.

"This bill is great news for Alaska, because the CR includes the full appropriations bill for military constructions and Veterans Affairs, which supports crucial defense projects in Alaska, creates thousands of new jobs, and takes care of our veterans," Murkowski said in a press release.

The Senate approved H.R.5325 by a 72 to 26 vote on Wednesday afternoon. It cleared the House by a 352 to 85 vote later in the evening.

The bill awaits Obama's signature. A statement of administration policy from the White House Office of Management and Budget supported passage of H.R.5325.

FY2017 Interior Department Budget Documents:
Budget in Brief | Strengthening Tribal Nations and Insular Communities | Indian Affairs | DOI Fact Sheet

FY2017 Indian Health Service Budget Documents:
Budget Request | Budget Justification | HHS Budget In Brief

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