A break from Washington's budget drama

If Congress agrees, deal means business as usual on budget issues for next two years

The drama that has been Washington gets a two-year break after the president and leaders in Congress reach a budget deal. 

“I am pleased to announce that a deal has been struck with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — on a two-year Budget and Debt Ceiling, with no poison pills,” President Trump tweeted Monday. “This was a real compromise to give another big victory to our Great Military and Vets!”

The clock had been ticking. One deadline was the actual budget for federal agencies, set to begin October 1. This deal, which still must be passed by Congress, does not fund the government but gives the appropriations committees broad guidance on how to spend funds. 

A second deadline was for Congress to lift the caps under the Budget Control Act of 2011. That would have required sequestration for military and domestic spending in order for the government to remain under strict budget caps. This deal means that the appropriations committees will have much more latitude on spending, l a significant benefit for federal Indian programs.

The third deadline was the debt ceiling. Congress has a borrowing limit. That has will be lifted for two years. 

“Today, a bipartisan agreement has been reached that will enhance our national security and invest in middle class priorities that advance the health, financial security and well-being of the American people," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in a news release.

"Importantly, Democrats have achieved an agreement that permanently ends the threat of the sequester. We are pleased that the Administration has finally agreed to join Democrats in ending these devastating cuts, which have threatened our investments to keep America Number One in the global economy and to ensure our national security. With this agreement, we strive to avoid another government shutdown, which is so harmful to meeting the needs of the American people and honoring the work of our public employees."

Democrats say the spending deal means there will be increases in both the domestic budget and the defense budget, what they called "parity." The result is more than $100 billion in funding for domestic priorities since President Trump took office.

The joint statement said: “The House will now move swiftly to bring the budget caps and debt ceiling agreement legislation to the Floor, so that it can be sent to the President’s desk as soon as possible. With this agreement, we can avoid the damage of sequestration and continue to advance progress for the people.”

This deal is particularly important to tribal governments. A study by Center for Indian Country Development in the Minnesota branch of the Federal Reserve Bank said, "All told, the federal government shutdown is affecting Indian Country in substantial and unique ways."

"At a broad level, government employment is disproportionately high in Indian Country. The Public Administration, or government sector, accounts for about 12.5 percent of all jobs in the group of 267 federally recognized reservations we’ve studied (we omitted the most populous reservation, Navajo, where OnTheMap puts the share at about 30 percent). The corresponding figure in our group of 514 nearby county areas was about 4 percent."

Several members in both the House and Senate have called for legislation to forward fund the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service to prevent shutdowns in those two government agencies. 

The Washington Post said the deal "marks a significant retreat for the White House, which insisted just a few months ago that it would force Congress to cut spending on a variety of programs to enact fiscal discipline. Instead, the White House agreed to raise spending for most agencies, particularly at the Pentagon."

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said the deal provides "significant resources for non-defense discretionary programs; it boosts funding for those programs by $56.5 billion over the next two years above the 2019 level to help address various needs that have built up following years of squeezing this part of the budget."

The policy center said appropriations for federal agencies are still a a near historic low when measured as a percentage of the economy. "But they would be funded far more adequately than under either the sequestration cuts that will be triggered in the absence of a deal or the earlier White House proposal to freeze overall non-defense appropriations in 2020 at the 2019 level."

The House vote on the budget deal is expected this week before members begin a six-week summer recess.

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

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