Secretary Zinke promotes budget cut as a 'saving' for taxpayers

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, second from left, with leaders of the Blackfeet Nation during a visit to Montana on March 10, 2017. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

Secretary Ryan Zinke is putting a positive spin on the Trump administration's first budget even though the Department of the Interior is among the losers

President Donald Trump is seeking $11.6 billion for Interior, which represents a 12 percent cut from current levels. Yet Zinke is standing behind the proposal even though he previously said he was "not happy' with the numbers.

"I can say for certain that this budget allows the Interior Department to meet our core mission and also prioritizes the safety and security of the American people," the new Cabinet official said in a press release on Thursday. "From supporting tribal sovereignty and self-determination across Indian country to investing more than $1 billion in safe and reliable water management in the western U.S., to budgeting for wildland fire preparedness and suppression, and streamlining access to the energy resources America needs, this budget enables the Department to meet its core mission and prioritizes programs that will put Americans’ security first.”

Just two days after being confirmed to his post earlier this month, Zinke told Interior employees that he was going to advocate for fair funding. I looked at the budget. I'm not happy, but we're going to fight about it," he said on March 8.

But the fiscal year 2018 blueprint released on Thursday confirms figures that were circulating around Washington before Zinke came on board so his presence didn't appear to have much of an effect on his boss. The cuts were necessary to offset a $54 billion increase in defense spending, according to the president himself.

"A budget that puts #AmericaFirst must make safety its no. 1 priority—without safety there can be no prosperity," Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

The proposal is only an outline -- it does not offer a specific amount for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Those numbers aren't expected to be sent to Congress for another month or two.

And Congress is where tribes will be looking to ensure that critical programs at the BIA won't see drastic cuts. It's up to lawmakers to fund the federal government.

"It's Congress that determines what is funded, not the administration," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Senate subcommittee in charge of Interior's programs, said at a briefing on Capitol Hill hosted by Native women last month. "They can propose it, but we dispose it."

White House Office of Management and Budget Document:
America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again (March 16, 2017)

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