The Hall of Tribal Nations at the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C., features flags from a number of tribal governments. Photo: U.S. Indian Affairs
Opinion | Politics

Mark Trahant: Indian Country faces another threat of a government shutdown





Congress needs more time to finish spending bills

Shutdown ahead?
By Mark Trahant
TrahantReports.Com

The September Mess has started early.

Congress will return to Washington next week facing some really tricky issues ranging from an increase in the debt limit to spending money so that the federal government can operate. President Donald J. Trump in Phoenix raised the stakes, saying he would favor a shutdown of the government unless Congress includes funding for the border wall.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, at an event in Oregon, said “I don’t think a government shutdown is necessary, and I don’t think most people want to see a government shutdown, ourselves included.” Funding for a border wall has already passed the House and is now waiting on the Senate.

But that’s where this mess gets tricky. It would take 60 votes to move that spending legislation forward (which is why the president keeps tweeting that the filibuster should go away) and the votes are not there. Democrats in both the House and Senate reaffirmed their opposition to the wall.

And there is another problem. Ryan said the Congress doesn’t have enough time to finish this year’s budget by Sept. 30 (the deadline for spending) and so it’s likely there will be another Continuing Resolution that funds the government through the end of 2017.

“The fact is though, given the time of year it is and the rest of the appropriations we have to do, we’re going to need more time to complete our appropriations process, particularly in the Senate. So that’s something that I think we all recognize and understand, that we’re going to have to have some more time to complete our appropriations process,” Ryan said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president sees the wall as vital to national security. “The President has made no secret that this is a priority for him, and he continues to advocate for it and he’ll continue to make sure that we move forward to secure the border and secure our country,” she told reporters.

There is an unanswered question here: Will the Trump administration demand border funding in the Continuing Resolution? (Get the shutdown going sooner, rather than later?) Or will the fight be held off until the holidays?

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president sees the wall as vital to national security. “The President has made no secret that this is a priority for him, and he continues to advocate for it and he’ll continue to make sure that we move forward to secure the border and secure our country,” she told reporters.

Indian Country is always hit hard by government shutdowns.

As I wrote last time around: “So what will a closed federal government look like? History gives us a clue. There was a 21-day shutdown that started on December 16, 1995, and continued to January 6, 1996. According to the Congressional Research Service, “All 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees were furloughed; general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 BIA benefit recipients were delayed; and estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payment of oil and gas royalties.

“And at the Indian Health Service, former IHS director Dr. Michael Trujillo told Congress that the government closure “caused considerable hardship within Indian communities. One result of staff furloughs was difficulty in processing funds for direct services and to contracting and compacting tribes so the delivery of health services could continue. Those staff that continued providing health services were not paid on time. Threats to shut off utilities to our health facilities and even to stop food deliveries were endured. We reached a point where some private sector providers indicated that they might not accept patients who were referred from Indian Health facilities because of the Federal shutdown.”

Time for Plan B. And C.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Find him on Twitter @TrahantReports