A federal shutdown has a disproportionate impact on Indian Country. So the prospect of another one is troubling.
President Donald J. Trump tweeted over the weekend that Democrats must support a border wall or else. "I would be willing to 'shut down; government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall!" the president tweeted. "Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!"
This afternoon at the White House Trump again said this was an important issue to him. “As far as the border is concerned ... if we don’t get border security after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown," the president said. “It’s time we had proper border security. We’re the laughingstock of the world. We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world.”
But Republicans in Congress were quick to say not so fast. Rep. Tom Cole, a Chickasaw citizen and a Republican from Oklahoma, said the elections this fall will be "challenging."I don't see how putting the attention on shutting down the government when you control the government is going to help you."
Other Republicans fear a government shutdown could impact the Senate's consideration of the Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court because it will take time away from an already crowded agenda.
This year's budget was probably going to be an issue for the president anyway. Last March when the president signed the last budget, he said: "There are a lot of things I’m unhappy about in this bill. There are a lot of things we shouldn’t have had in this bill but we were, in a sense, forced if we want to build our military, we were forced to have. There are some things we should have in the bill. But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it again. Nobody read it. It’s only hours old. Some people don’t even know -- it’s $1.3 trillion."
That might happen again. The House has moved several appropriations bills. On July 19, for example, the House approved the spending bill for the Interior Department, that includes the Environmental Protection Agency and the Indian Health Service. Interior's appropriations added up to $35.3 billion and did not include many of the program cuts that the administration sought.
“These bills fund vital programs across the federal government, including those that make Americans safer, protect our nation’s resources, and create jobs, especially in America’s small businesses. The package targets resources to programs that will help boost economic growth and opportunity, protect consumers and investors, promote an efficient federal court system, and help stop financial crime,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said. “This important legislation also makes key investments to address many of the other challenges facing our nation – such as providing funds to fight the crushing opioid epidemic and to stop cyber-attacks. I look forward to working with our Senate colleagues to get these critical bills signed into law as soon as possible.”
The House Appropriations report says: "The Committee recommends $4,202,639,000 for Indian Health Services. All proposed cuts are restored and IHS is expected to continue all programs at fiscal year 2018 enacted levels" with a few exceptions. Similar numbers are posted for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education. "The Committee recommends $2,436,821,000 for Operation of Indian programs. All sub-activities and program elements presented in the budget estimate submitted to the Congress are continued at fiscal year 2018 enacted levels," the budget report says.
The Senate will have its own appropriations numbers and that will have to be reconciled with the House. The Senate may move what some are calling a "minibus" an appropriations package that would include Interior and at least two other agencies. Last week, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said the Senate was moving toward regular order.
“We have not debated an Interior appropriations bill on the floor of the United States Senate in nearly a decade," Shelby said. He is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Why ... because year after year party-line votes in committee represented the end of the line in the legislative process. Yet here we are today, debating both of these appropriations bills and more on the Senate floor... What changed was the mindset of appropriators on both sides of the aisle who embraced a willingness to sacrifice partisan riders and priorities outside the committee’s jurisdiction for the good of the process."
However others in Congress fear that even process is taking too long. “The longer this takes, the more likely it is that it’ll be an omni, which everybody hates,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., told The Hill. “Everybody hates it. Appropriators don’t like it, the White House doesn’t like it, Republican leadership in the House doesn’t like it. But that’s what happens if you keep delaying it."
During previous government closures Indian Country was hit hard. During a 21-day shutdown in December 1995, all 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs 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,” according to the Congressional Research Service. All told Standard & Poor’s estimated the U.S. economy lost $24 billion last time around.
The White House said earlier this month: "President Trump’s 2019 Budget request suggests billions in potential cuts to non-defense discretionary spending. The Administration urges Congress to leverage these and other suggestions to cut non-defense discretionary spending so that national priorities like border security and immigration enforcement can be fully funded without further jeopardizing the nation’s fiscal well-being."
President Trump says it's still the economy that people care about. most. On Friday he said, "I am thrilled to announce that, in the second quarter of this year, the United States economy grew at the amazing rate of 4.1 percent. We’re on track to hit the highest annual average growth rate in over 13 years. And I will say this right now, and I’ll say it strongly: As the trade deals come in one by one, we’re going to go a lot higher than these numbers. And these are great numbers."
The "economic miracle" added 3.7 million new jobs since the election, the president said. "We are in the midst of the longest positive job-growth streak in history ... Veterans’ unemployment is at its lowest level in 18 years. And that number is rapidly going up, on top of which we just received and won from Congress, Choice, where veterans can go out and see a doctor if they can’t get service, the service that they deserve. Unemployment for disabled Americans has hit a record low. Lowest in history. More than 3.5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps — something that you haven’t seen in decades. 3.5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps. That’s because they’re able to go out and get a job. And they’re going to love their jobs."
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports