On Thursday, the US Senate confirmed David Bernhardt as the new Secretary of the Interior. The vote was largely along party lines 56 to 41, some Democrats pointed out the contradiction with Trump’s administration to “drain the swamp” of those insiders in Washington who take over key appointed positions for their own gain. Bernhardt, is a former industry lobbyist for Oil and the Agribusiness, and now sits a top an agency that governs and regulates mineral rights and leases. Bernhardt, who has played a major role in designing the President’s policies for expanding drilling and mining, will now serve over 500 million acres of public land and vast coastal waters. However, Secretary Bernhardt is also known for imposing more ethical standards at the Department of the Interior, after scandals during the Bush Administration. And he certainly has experience with Department programs. He served as the Deputy Secretary under Zinke and was Acting Secretary until his recent appointment this week. See New York Times Article
At the relief of Indian County Congress passes an Omnibus bill in March, holding the course and adding a little money to the Indian Affairs budget. It was an uncertain, beginning to the year, that saw continuing resolutions, potential government shutdowns, a deal to raise budget caps, and a last-minute veto threat from the President. At the end the legislation provides $1.3 trillion in omnibus appropriations for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.
Congressional appropriators rejected the deep cuts proposed in the President’s FY 2018 Budget Request, including those for federal Indian programs. Some of these provisions include:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): BIA is funded at a total of $3.01 billion, an increase of $203.8 million or 7.1%.
- Indian Health Service (IHS): IHS is funded at a total of $5.5 billion, an increase of $497.9 million or 10%.
- Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Funding: The bill contains a 3% set aside for Tribal Nations within the VOCA fund, or $133 million for the delivery of victim services in Indian Country.
- Opioid Epidemic: From a total of $1 billion in new grant funding to address the opioid crisis directed at state and Tribal governments, $50 million is set aside for Tribal Nations. In addition, $5 million is set aside for Tribal Nations to provide medication-assisted treatment. Finally, $7.5 million is provided for the BIA’s Law Enforcement Opioid initiative.
- 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 (NAHBG) in addition to the $655 million provided for the NAHBG formula grants.
- Road Maintenance: will receive a 14 percent increase to $34.6 million.
- Restoration of the Tiwahe initiative: at the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
- Violence Against Women Act: $2 million to implement both training and specific Tribal court needs, and $13 million to address the needs of Tribes affected by Public Law 83- 280.
- BIA Construction: would increase by $162 million to $354.1 million, an 84 percent increase.
- Opioid initiative:5 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement.
See Link: Budget Report
An interesting strategy has been proposed this last week to handle 2019 appropriations bills. Nearly, 16 Republican senators announced a willingness to work through August recess to complete spending bills and confirm more of President Donald Trump’s nominees. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who has led the effort, hinted that a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would be forthcoming. “The Senate should immediately begin work on one or several consolidated appropriations bills, so they can be openly debated and amended accordingly,” the senators wrote. “Our defense priorities are bipartisan, and they should come first.”
That letter signals a willingness by the conservatives to bundle spending bills together, perhaps using the “minibus” strategy in which several regular appropriations measures get combined on the floor. Normally, senators would not want the chamber in session well into August during an election year, with lawmakers eager to be home and meeting with constituents and voters. The Republicans seem to want to avoid a last minute continuing resolution to keep the government funded past the end of September and they want to confirm a large number of Trump nominations as August approaches. Some of the 77 confirmations that took place by unanimous consent or voice votes as the August recess got underway in 2017 might have happened without a cancellation threat since that’s been the normal practice of the Senate.
These 16 senators, however, believe the threats affected the behavior of Senate Democrats. “Our diligence was rewarded with reason, and that can happen again,” the senators wrote.
Meanwhile dozens of Indian Country leaders were on Capitol Hill last week to present their budget priorities to key members of Congress before the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior. The testimony from tribes and Indian organization, representing every region of the nation, had a consistent message – Indian Country needs additional funding as part of the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities. The panel’s Republican and Democratic leaders, for the large part, have embraced that goal.
After hearing from the tribal witnesses, the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior will spend the next month or so drafting the Interior appropriations bill. The package is typically released sometime in June, with lawmakers aiming to get it passed before October 1, the start of fiscal year 2019.