President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, delivers remarks prior to signing the $1.3 trillion Omnibus Spending Bill, Friday, March 23, 2018, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., which will keep the government funded through the end of September. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen attend. Photo by D. Myles Cullen / White House

Mark Trahant: Business as usual in D.C. is good for Indian Country

Trump complains. And signs the business-as-usual spending bill into law anyway

Indian Health, Bureau of Indian Affairs see a budget increase
By Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

The Omnibus: Lawmakers reject Trump cuts with increases for Indian programs

The federal government’s newly enacted budget is a massive “omnibus” act that spends $1.3 trillion and makes some members of Congress pleased and others angry. It’s a document that reflects a broken budget system. And, at the same time, it’s a business-as-usual document in a presidential administration that has promised structural change.

“There are a lot of things I’m unhappy about,” President Donald J. Trump told reporters at the White House Diplomatic Reception room. “But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. Nobody read it, it’s only hours old.”

But the negotiations were not hours old. The back and forth between Democratic and Republican lawmakers was essentially a year late. This spending bill only funds the federal government between now and the end of September. But the process took so long because neither side had enough votes to pass the document on their own; Republicans needed votes from Democrats and to get those votes there had to be deals. Lots of deals. Business as usual.

And business as usual is good for Indian Country. Federal Indian programs, some of which had been slated for either elimination or deep cuts, continued on course.

A Short History of federal spending in Indian Country. Infographic by Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today / Trahant Reports

The omnibus spending bill increases funding for the Indian Health Service by 10 percent, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education by 7 percent to $3.064 billion. The IHS budget line s $5.5 billion. When the budget is compared to the president’s request, the increases are even sharper, more than 16 percent for the IHS and 23 percent for the BIA.

At the BIA, according to an analysis by Amber Ebarb at the National Congress of American Indians, “Overall, the eliminations and reductions proposed in the president’s budget were rejected.”

Other budget items:
• The bill includes a 3 percent set aside for Indian tribes within the funds available under the Victims of Crimes Act. The cap for these funds was set at $4.4 billion, which amounts to $133 million. As Ebarb wrote: “This is an important step forward for Indian Country, which has the highest rate of criminal victimization and had up until this point been left out of this funding. This funding will address the long standing inequity and meaningfully improve the landscape of victim services in Indian Country.”
• The bill provides $50 million for grants to Indian tribes or tribal organizations to address the epidemic, and $5 million for tribes in the Medication-Assisted Treatment for Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction program.
• Infrastructure spending would increase for BIA and IHS construction, BIA road maintenance, and a $100 million competitive grant program is added under Native American Housing Block Grants in addition to the $655 million provided for the NAHBG formula grants.

President Trump said he signed the bill into law because it increased military spending. “I looked very seriously at the veto. But because of the incredible gains that we’ve been able to make for the military, that overrode any of our thinking.”

The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.

Mark Trahant is the editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports.

Relevant Documents:
House Committee on Appropriations Press Release: Government-Wide Funding Legislation Released
Highlights: Fiscal Year 2018 Interior and Environment Bill
Bill Text - Division G | Bill Report - Division G
Rep. Nita Lowey statement on FY2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act

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