Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

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TrahantReports

I finished the draft of my #NativeVote18 databases.
I have two. The first is Native candidates for Congress and statewide offices. I am stunned: There are fifteen people on this list, 7 Ds, 5 Rs, 2 Greens and 1 Independent. A candidate for governor and two Lt. Govs.

I am using Google fusion tabs — one is a spreadsheet, note cards, and a map.

https://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource…

So who am I missing?

Second list is candidates for state legislatures. There are retirements and term limited members who I have dropped … and a few newcomers. Total so far 46.

I know this is not all. And a few folks have yet to announce.

https://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource…

#NativeVote18 #LoveData #NotFinal #DRAFTDAY

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** Updated

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Gavin Clarkson is clear: He supports President Donald J. Trump. And he’s running for Congress because “the swamp is deep, the alligators, bite, and the taxpayers are getting ripped off every day.” He wants less regulation and more oil and gas development. And don’t get him started on what he dismisses as “fake news.” More on that, shortly.

Clarkson, a Choctaw tribal member, is running in the Republican primary for New Mexico’s second congressional district. The district is now represented by the state’s only Republican in Congress, Steve Pearce, who is a candidate for governor. It’s a crowded field. There are at least four Republican candidates and a half dozen Democrats. (Two of the Republicans have already raised nearly a half million dollars between them.) The filing deadline comes up in March and the primary is in June. The district is 5.5 percent Native American, and includes the homelands of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, and the Zuni, Laguna, Isleta Pueblos. A small portion of the Navajo Nation and Ft. Sill Apache are also included.

This is a fascinating district. It’s huge, the largest congressional district in the United States that’s not a single state district, such as Alaska or Montana. It’s also considered a “lean Republican” district by about five points. And Trump did carry the district, but he only barely reached 50 percent of the vote. Obama won over the same voters in his last race.

It’s also a district that is changing demographically. Pew Research says only 40 percent of Hispanics in the district are now eligible to vote, but potentially that number could soon top 56 percent. That would be a game changer and the current divide over childhood arrivals and immigration reform could exacerbate that shift.

Clarkson has served in the Trump administration as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. He is a business professor at New Mexico State University. And says he’s the first Native American to earn a PhD from the Harvard Business School.

His short stint at Interior was focused on modernizing the Indian trader regulations.

However Clarkson’s role become controversial after an Inspector General released a report that said stronger “internal controls” were needed over the management of Indian loan program guarantees. ProPublica and The Washington Post reported that Clarkson resigned after the report — something he calls “fake news.” That’s harsh. After reading the stories, it’s clear that someone at Interior had said he had resigned. There is a source there. Two different news organizations would not independently make that fact up. And Interior would not comment on the record, only saying it was a personnel matter.

The issue involves a $22.5 million loan guarantee for an enterprise of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe that the Inspector General said did not meet guidelines and the deal “went south.” Clarkson blamed Lois Lerner, then an IRS official, for changing the rules. But reports from the Inspector General and from Human Rights Watch cite a the lack of internal control and a fiscal shell game. The Inspector General report said: “Appropriate controls are important due to the level of risk of this Program. Between 2010 and 2016, DCI paid approximately $12.4 million in claims resulting from defaults, and received an additional claim for approximately $20 million, which had not been paid at the time of our review. As of September 30, 2016, DCI was potentially liable for $606 million in guaranteed loans. Should any of the borrowers default on these loans, it is ultimately taxpayers who would carry the burden of bailing out the lenders since their obligations are guaranteed by the U.S. Government.” 

Clarkson said he did not personally profit from this venture nor did not resign from the Interior Department until the end of this year. And then, he said,  it was to run for Congress. “The story spiraled out of control,” Clarkson said. He said the department said he could not comment, or correct the record, only told to “suck it up.” Now that he is out of government, however, he said he can tell his side of the story.

** Update. The IG report said:  “Finally, the company’s business plan relied on an expectation of a favorable tax ruling from the Internal Revenue Service, which it did not receive.” However a 2008 letter from the IRS does say the business plan could raise capital based on an exemption from federal taxes. That, Clarkson said, was later reversed by Lerner.

And in his news release announcing his candidacy Clarkson went on the attack. After exposing “Lois Lerner’s racist practice of conducting IRS audits of tax-exempt bonds thirty-two times more often against tribes than state and local governments,” Clarkson said he was able to convince one of Lerner’s subordinates to admit the IRS’s wrongdoing and change its policy. “Lois Lerner retaliated by pulling the rug out from under my initiative to leverage capital gains tax treatment to attract outside capital investment into tribal economies. She changed the rules in the middle of the game, ignoring the plain reading of a statute, just like far too many activist judges do.”

Clarkson said he is running as a conservative and a lifelong Republican. He said his advocacy of tribal sovereignty is not a partisan issue and he will have support from tribes, individual Indians, and the oil and gas industry.

I asked Clarkson about climate change. He said he’s not convinced it’s necessary to destroy the economy to take action. “I fully support the president for pulling out of climate deal,” he said. We have to “do what’s best for America.” Translation in the Trump era: Do what’s best for gas and oil.

To me,  doing what’s best for America means to take climate change seriously and to act accordingly. Clarkson told me as a “scientist” he’s skeptical. However his resume reports that he was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the dynamics of tribal finance. His expertise is not in climate science, but economics.

This is important because it’s misleading to say that the science is not there when it comes to climate change. It’s a political talking point and nothing more. One of the standards of academic research is the peer review process. According to a recent roundup of scientific studies by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” My point here is that to say, “the evidence is not there,” is an attack on the scientific process (which is exactly why the Trump administration is so keen to make research less rigorous).  

The other issue I asked Clarkson about was Medicaid. Nearly every Republican plan in Congress pushes the idea of turning Medicaid into a block grant program for states. Clarkson said in an email: “I firmly believe that Medicaid is a critical program and must be improved by making it less bureaucratic. I believe that Medicaid has become too costly and complex for states to effectively manage, and it is already the biggest item in state budgets and is projected to absorb as much as 80-100 percent of all state revenues if left unreformed.”

He said he supports the Navajo Nation’s efforts to assume Medicaid responsibility for on-reservation members.

“The nation’s most disadvantaged, including many needy children, deserve an efficient health care program that will continue to provide essential services,” Clarkson said. “If Medicaid is left as it is currently, there will be no safety net for the poor in the future.”

I, too, would not leave Medicaid as it is. I would expand it. It’s more cost effective (yes, cheaper) than private sector health care. But more important Medicaid has become essential to the Indian health system.

There are four Native American Republicans running for Congress. Representatives Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin from Oklahoma. Dino Rossi in Washington state. And now Clarkson.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

Trahant Reports is on iTunes or Soundcloud. Download here. 

 

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Dominica’s capital of Roseau in the days after Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Timothy Fishleigh, Caapi Cottage Retreat Center.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Trump administration, and its allies in Congress, are fighting a losing war. They continue to press forward for the development of oil, gas, coal, when the rest of the world understands the implication of that folly. Global warming is the most pressing issue for our time. Period.

The thing is governments really have two choices when it comes to managing the impact on its peoples from global warming: Spend money on trying to reduce the problem; or spend money on cleaning up the catastrophes.

The Trump administration is on the hook for the catastrophe. A report released Monday by The National Centers for Environmental Information pegged the total cost this year at $1.5 trillion, including estimates for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. (And that doesn’t even begin to count the human toll, lost lives, lost jobs, lost opportunity.)

I witnessed first hand the impact of Hurricane Maria on the island of Dominica last month. We keep hearing stories about the power grid being down (similar to Puerto Rico) and you think, why? It’s been months. Why aren’t the lights on? Then you see nearly every electrical pole on the island sideways. The entire grid needs to be rebuilt (or better, rethought) and that’s decades of infrastructure. So the figure of $1.5 trillion is far short of what will be needed. Nearly every electrical line, every other house, the damage was so widespread it’s impossible to overstate. And that’s just one island. Multiple the effect across the region. The planet.

Even the United States.

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The Centers for Environmental Information says there were sixteen weather and climate disasters  with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the country last year. These events included one drought, two flooding events, one severe freeze, eight severe storms, three cyclones, and one extraordinary wildfire. These “events” as the center defines them resulted in 362 deaths.

Turns out 2017 was a record-breaking year. “In total, the U.S. was impacted by 16 separate billion-dollar disaster events tying 2011 for the record number of billion-dollar disasters for an entire calendar year,” the report said. “In fact, 2017 arguably has more events than 2011 given that our analysis traditionally counts all U.S. billion-dollar wildfires, as regional-scale, seasonal events, not as multiple isolated events.More notable than the high frequency of these events is the cumulative cost, which exceeds $300 billion in 2017 — a new U.S. annual record.”

A similar report was published by the Government Accountability Office including a recommendation that Executive Office of the President “identify significant climate risks and craft appropriate federal responses.”

But instead of trying to reduce the impact — and the costs of weather-related catastrophe — the Trump administration continues on course for new development of oil and gas. The Interior Department announced new rules that, if enacted, will open up nearly all of the United States coastal waters to more oil and gas development beginning next year.

“By proposing to open up nearly the entire OCS for potential oil and gas exploration, the United States can advance the goal of moving from aspiring for energy independence to attaining energy dominance,” said Vincent DeVito, Counselor for Energy Policy at Interior in the news release. “This decision could bring unprecedented access to America’s extensive offshore oil and gas resources and allows us to better compete with other oil-rich nations.”

Or as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke put it: “The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance.”

Dominance is such a funny word. How can any nation be dominant in the face of hurricanes that are ever more powerful and destructive? How does energy dominance work when tens of thousands of Americans will have to move because their homes are no longer there because of fire or storms? What happens if that number grows into the hundreds of thousands? Millions? How can we afford to spend trillions of dollars rebuilding what we have now?

A group of elders on the Bering Sea immediately condemned the Interior Department’s offshore drilling plan. “We told them that in person last October and again in writing, that there were 76 tribes in these regions opposed to this,” said the statement from the elders. “The draft plan implies that Bering Sea communities were ‘generally supportive of some’ oil and gas activity. This is not accurate and there is no evidence of this from Bering Sea communities. For decades, our people have opposed oil and gas activity and we continue to oppose it today. The northern Bering Sea is a very fragile ecosystem. The marine mammals that we rely on use it as their highway and they follow specific migration routes. That is how we know when and where to find them. The noise and vibration associated with drilling will interfere with their sonar and disrupt their migrations. Then we the coastal people will lose our primary food source.”

There is a connection between developing oil and gas and paying the high costs to clean up after a storm. One side of the ledger goes to a few; the oil and gas “industry.” The folks who bought and paid for this administration.

The other side of the ledger is the rest of us. The taxpayers who will foot the bill for this continued folly.

And on the Bering Sea? The folks who live there are one storm away from a tragedy. As the elders put it: “Our people and our way of life are being exposed to danger and we do not understand why.”

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. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

Trahant Reports is on iTunes or Soundcloud. Download here. 

 

 

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Robert Weaver, Quapaw, is President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to head the Indian Health Service. Weaver’s background is insurance, not health care delivery. (Weaver Group photo)

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

What qualifications are needed to manage (and possibly reform?) the Indian health system? It’s Indian Country’s largest employer with more than 15,000 on the payroll and many, many more people who work in health care for tribes, non-profits and other related agencies. The IHS budget is $6.1 billion. Yet it’s also the least funded national health care delivery system, operating in a political atmosphere where critics ask, why can’t it do more?

The Wall Street Journal published a story last week that raised questions about Robert Weaver, the Trump Administration’s nominee to head the Indian Health Service. The Journal challenged Weaver’s history at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., from 1997 to 2006. However it quoted Jennifer Talhelm, an HHS representative, saying “any suggestion Mr. Weaver is unqualified to run IHS is a pure act of character assassination.”

Weaver is a member of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma.

A few facts: Weaver will be the least educated director of the Indian Health Service ever. If confirmed, Weaver will the tenth permanent director. All but one prior to Weaver have been physicians, most with multiple degrees in public health, science, and health administration. One former director, Robert McSwain, was not a medical doctor, but he was a longtime health manager and holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California. On his CV, Weaver lists his education at Missouri Southern State University in International Business with an emphasis in Marketing and Accounting; Minor in Spanish; Minor in Vocal Music & Piano. However the Journal reported that he was seeking a degree and did not graduate.

Weaver’s background is insurance. In a September 2016 profile in Native Oklahoma magazine, Weaver said, “We have Native Americans who are brilliant — geniuses — at gaming, but where are the Native American geniuses at insurance? It’s the second-largest cost we pay other than payroll. Yet it just goes to the wayside.” He told the magazine that his business saved the Quapaw Tribe more than $5 million a year.

“I try to be a translator for tribal leaders to understand this convoluted, difficult-to-understand, most of the time full of lies and deception industry, into ‘this is what it is. This is what your choices are.’ I get it,” he told Native Oklahoma.

Perhaps the Indian Health Service should be led by someone with an insurance background. It would surely help if the agency could come up with a better funding model, including a mix of insurance funds (third-party billing in IHS-speak.)

But there are three problems that ought to be clearly addressed through the Senate confirmation process.

First there is the problem of scale. Weaver would jump from managing a $10 million a year small business — one where he can hire and fire at will — to running a $6 billion agency where personnel decisions are made by folks higher in the chain of command at the Department of Health and Human Services or even as a favor to a United States Senator. And firing? Just one such action could take up more time than the three years left in this administration. And that’s the easy stuff. The agency’s operations are complicated by Congress, law, regulation, tribal relations, the Veterans Administration, Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance.

To his credit, Weaver has been outspoken about the underfunding of the Indian health system. (Question: Will he say so again in his confirmation testimony?) In a paper he wrote a year ago, Weaver said: “Healthcare is a treaty right for all Native Americans. The method of delivering healthcare for Native Americans is the Indian Health Service system established through the Federal Government. The Federal Government allocates funds to the IHS system each fiscal year. This allocation has been and continues to be inadequate to meet the healthcare needs of Native Americans. Currently it is underfunded by thirty billion dollars annually.”

That figure of $30 billion would eliminate the funding disparity for Indian health. (The National Congress of American Indians has published a plan to make that so over a decade.)

The second problem is how to articulate the Indian health story. This is a problem of “duality,” two competing ideas. On one hand you have some significant health and management problems such as those identified in the Great Plains by The Wall Street Journal. On the other hand you have a system that is innovative and includes models of excellence (such as clinics in the Pacific Northwest or the Alaska Native Medical Center.) One story is told. The other less so. I am convinced that a fully-funded system will only happen when we tell both stories. The narrative of failure is not an incentive to invest more money.

The third problem is the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. Weaver wrote that the law works for Native Americans but overall it was a failure. “We now see that it did not provide health insurance for the forty million uninsured Americans identified as the target market in 2008, it is not affordable for those who were pulled into the ACA system, and the out of pocket maximums associated with the plan effectively make access to healthcare unattainable,” he wrote. The first part of that sentence is factually incorrect. The uninsured rate dropped from 20.5 percent in 2013 to 12.2 percent in 2016, a 40 percent decline. You can argue about the cost of that insurance, but it’s complicated because the ACA required minimum standards for insurance, covering such things as women’s health. All of the Republican plans are designed to save money by getting rid of those standards.

Of course in the Trump era there’s probably not a candidate for any public office who champions the ACA.

But I also don’t see any Medicaid experience in Weaver’s background and that is an expertise area that is critical. Some of the medical, treatment, and ethical issues are extraordinarily complex. They will require a solid team to help consider all of the alternatives that have life and death consequences. (So, if confirmed, he’ll need a lot of help.) Oklahoma is not a Medicaid expansion state, so there would not be a lot of experience in squeezing every dollar from Medicaid by making more people eligible or rethinking the coding of costs. The public insurance of Medicaid (and Medicare) now total $1.05 billion of the IHS budget, but it could be a lot more.

Weaver could use his expertise to help tribes improve insurance for tribal members and employees — and that could boost funding for IHS. Private insurance is now only about $110 million of the agency’s revenue.

So what are the qualifications necessary to run the Indian health system? I have a bias. I have met some of the great physicians who ran the agency. I remember Emery Johnson’s passion and thoughtfulness about what IHS could be. I’d even argue that IHS has had remarkable leadership since its founding. So the standard, for me, at least, is quite high. There are also two Native women who have run state health agencies — an ideal background for managing the IHS. There is a lot of talent out there.

But the Trump administration likes the idea of shaking up government. And, appointing someone to run the IHS with a very different background, does just that. Perhaps Weaver brings a new way of thinking and managing. Then again we would do well to remember the latin phrase that medical doctors learn early in their training, Primum non nocere. It means: First, do no harm.

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. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18 #IndianHealth

Trahant Reports is on iTunes or Soundcloud. Download here. 

(Note: I use the phrase, Indian health system (lower case) unless I am specifically talking about the agency. My reason is that the narrative of a government-run health care agency, the Indian Health Service, doesn’t reflect what most of what the agency does now. The funding mechanism that supports tribes and non-profit health care agencies is the largest part of the system.)

 

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One thing about writing in the Trump era … there is no shortage of ideas.

I am fascinated by latest reports about Robert Weaver and his qualifications spurred by a story in the Wall Street Journal. An HHS spokeswoman told the Journal that “any suggestion Mr. Weaver is unqualified to run IHS is a pure act of character assassination.” (Another version here and here.)

But what are the qualifications to run a massive health care delivery system; a $6 billion plus agency that represents a huge chunk of Indian Country’s economy?

I am also interested in the new oil and gas leasing rules & I wonder if that will be an issue in Tara Sweeney’s nomination to be the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at Interior.

More candidates have announced … time to update my #NativeVote18 list and profiles. — Mark

Kids Fig 2

Correction: The chart I originally published was misleading. The CBO score for the tax bill (and most of the other measures) looks at the cost over ten years. Appropriations are made in a single year. So that made the tax bill appear more costly in visual form. I am working on a new version now, something that illustrates the downward pressure on federal spending but uses an apple-to-apple comparison. (I also added a sentence in the report below to stress that the tax cuts are measured over a decade.)

Funny thing: I was so intent on getting the area of the bubbles correct that I completely spaced the CBO’s measure of ten years as opposed to a single year for appropriations.

Damn.

Two take aways. First. I still want to illustrate, visually, the downward pressure on the budget. The balloons I used were misleading, but the point remains the same. The pressure to cut is going to grow in intensity. Second: The reconfigured bubbles (which take up too much space because of their relationship) really show the problem of entitlement spending, such as Medicaid. That’s a whole different topic … but visually, wow.

 

Elections should be fought over policy not nonsense

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Elections in America are usually fought over nonsense. Trivial topics. Stuff that grabs headlines. Or issues that remind voters why they are in Political Party A or B. (And for good measure there is always contention about the personality of a So So Candidate who does (or does not) connect with voters.)

Nonsense.

This problem is particularly acute in the Trump era. The recent news cycle pits President Donald J. Trump versus Steve Bannon. The White House statement that Bannon “lost his mind” is attention grabbing. Our political minds want to know what this means for the next election and the Trump coalition (which still defies logic because it subtracts supporters, rather than reaching out and finding new ones).

But politics ought to be more about policy. What choices are being made in our name? What’s the best way to improve the lives of children, the next generation? How do we invest public resources, that means tax dollars, into making life better? These are questions that get far less attention than the latest presidential tweet.

Then the president and Congress have already set the rules for this debate when they passed tax cuts. Now, every act of Congress, every budget from the administration, will set out to justify (and pay for) that law.

This is the problem: The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the  federal deficits will increase to $1.8 trillion over the next decade. “As a result of those higher deficits, debt held by the public would increase from the 91.2 percent of gross domestic product in CBO’s June 2017 baseline to 97.5 percent,” CBO said. That means that the annual budget deficit will be nearly equal to the entire economy.

But CBO is on the conservative side of this argument. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget warns that after adding interest costs the tax plan would be enough to “increase debt to 111 percent of gross domestic product … That would be higher than any time in U.S. history, and no achievable amount of economic growth could finance it.”

A federal debt that’s bigger than the entire economy. And, key phrase here, “no achievable amount of economic growth could finance it.”

Already leaders of the Congress — the same bunch who did proposed this tax legislation — are now saying the country cannot afford to spend money on social programs.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (who is soon to retire) said he was one the earliest sponsors of the Children’s Health Insurance Program“I invented it,” he said on the Senate floor. He says he doesn’t know anyone who doesn’t support its reauthorization. Yet. So he preaches that this country must live within its means.

Congress gave corporations a tax break worth $1.3 trillion. And another $425 billion was rewarded to small businesses that pay their taxes on individual returns (so-called pass through taxes). On top of that (for desert, perhaps) the Congress gave the very wealthiest, those few who pay estate taxes on inherited wealth, a break worth $83 billion. Even though those numbers reflect a decade of revenue, it still means that many in Congress say there is not enough money to fund the government.

That’s a rotten framework. But it’s more complicated when you add one more layer: The Budget Control Act of 2011. That law was passed to limit Congress’ power to spend freely. It sets in place budget caps for domestic and defense spending. If the caps are exceeded, then an automatic sequester (remember that?) kicks in unless Congress passes a waiver. That deal linked spending for defense and domestic programs.

Now it’s a problem because the Republicans want to spend a lot more money on the Pentagon. They want that part of the budget to go up. But because it’s linked to domestic programs — such as those that impact Indian Country — that cannot happen without an agreement with the Democrats. Wednesday the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate met to try and make that happen. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described the meeting as  “positive and productive.”

Democrats, for once, have some power to bargain. More spending for defense cannot happen without their votes. (Republicans remain divided over all federal spending.) So Democrats are trying to see how much leverage they have and over what issues. It’s likely that domestic spending will be a part of any deal, and possibly the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Several Democrats, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have said they will not vote for any budget unless it includes a provision to protect immigrants who were brought to this country as children, the so-called Dreamers. (President Trump removed Obama-era protections for this group and it’s a moral imperative for Democrats (and many Republicans) to protect some 800,000 people from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, began under President Obama.)

That’s a huge agenda. It’s likely that Congress will again push it forward past its deadline of Jan. 19. Even if there is a deal, say today, then the actual writing of the budget will have to go back to the Appropriations subcommittees to be put into legislative language. That will take time.

Federal spending on Indian Country ought to be in a different category, one that does not yet exist. There should be a line item for treaty obligations. Should.

So far the budget numbers are hard to know for federal Indian programs. The Trump administration’s budget was largely ignored. And the House and Senate committee numbers look lean, but fine. But the thing is until there is an actual deal, none of these numbers matter. After a deal each committee will have to go back and determine what money can actually be spent. If it’s a good deal, the numbers will stay the same or even improve. The alternative? No words.

Of course the bigger issue in Congress is about priorities. This Congress has already decided that tax cuts are the most important thing that had to be done. So every fight over the budget has to somehow go through that filter. There is not enough money because Congress is giving corporations $1.4 trillion so they can be more competitive and profitable. (Funny: thought they were both.)

As economist William G. Gale wrote for the Brookings Institute: “… tax cuts are not free; they eventually have to be financed with higher taxes or lower spending. And once those financing requirements are taken into account, most low- and middle-income households are likely to be worse off than they would have been without the tax cut in the first place.”

Worse off. Then Indian Country knew that before the tax bill ever reached the president’s desk.

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. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

Trahant Reports is on iTunes or Soundcloud. Download here. 

 

 

 

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Trahant Reports

Every so often I like to post an update about the mechanics of Trahant Reports. I write often that transparency is a value in the digital world — and so that must include my work.

Trahant Reports, of course, is an unusual business. I give away my words for free. Every column posted on my blog is free for the taking by other media. It’s also found on my blog, Apple News, and across social media platforms. Once in a while people pay me anyway — thank you — and others, occasionally, commission pieces directly. But the bulk of my reporting is free use. My goal is to keep it that way.

How does that work? I try to make it up with paid speeches. I had planned last year on turning some of my work into a book that I could sell. In fact I sort of reserved the summer months for just that. Then the Republicans set out to repeal the Affordable Care Act and I was compelled to write everything I could on the topic. (I produced some 85,000 words on Indian health, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.)

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Authory database

I also fixed a recurring problem: Saving my material in a searchable form. (So far I only have 2017 available but I am working on a solution to back further in time.) Here is link to my archive database, via Authory.

But I also wrote less in 2017 than I did in 2016. Last year I posted 109 pieces. The year before that it was 157. Why so few? I didn’t get lazy. It’s just 2016 was an election year. I am thinking that 2018 will require a lot more posts. (Speaking of that I am working now on my database of Native American candidates for Congress, state offices, and state legislatures. I should have a new graphic and post soon.) Please help: If you know of a candidate, drop me a note. Here is the #NativeVote18 list that I am updating.

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Trahant Reports is also a broadcast and podcast. Every Monday morning I post a 3-minute commentary for Native Voice One. This year I did a little fundraising for this project — shout outs to First Peoples Worldwide, Norm DeWeaver, Shawn White Wolf and Gerald Sherman. This year I also produced three half hour special reports, one on climate change, another on health care, and a preview of the 2018 election cycle. There will be more audio in my future. And, ideally, I would like this part of my operation to be self-sufficient (even though all of the content remains free for tribal radio stations, other nonprofit users, and listeners.)

As many of you know, I also write daily news rhymes on Twitter … @NewsRimes4lines. I have been doing that since the Seattle P-I days. I took a break while I was out of the country, but I’ll start it up again next week. It’s not really a part of my business. But I like the discipline of writing something first thing in the morning. And it’s fun.

There are two big changes ahead for me next year.

The first one is after May I will no longer be an academic. I still want to find a ways to work with young people but for me it’s hard to do that in a university setting. I don’t want to worry about grades or lesson plans. Instead I’ll focus on news, our history, trends, and what we can learn. I am not sure how this will work as a practical matter … but after May my “free” operation will have to be self-sustaining.

Then that leads to the second big change. I will be working with FNX on a new TV magazine show. We’re naming it Wassaja — as a tribute to so many of the great journalists from previous eras. We have been working hard on the first few shows and hope to debut the 60-minute production this spring. As they say on TV … stay tuned.

Thanks again for a great year. Trahant out.

 

 

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President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the White House on the tax reform legislation. (Official White House photo by Stephanie Chasez)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The first year of the Trump era has been challenging: The administration and the Congress sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act and radically redesign one of the nation’s best public health insurance programs, Medicaid. That plan failed.  And I’ll come back to that point shortly.

But first: Congress did move forward with its other agenda item, to rewrite the tax code and reduce the amount of federal income taxes that most pay. And the two key words here are income tax. That’s important because most people pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes. The Joint Committee on Taxation looked at the numbers a couple of years ago and found that 80 million tax filers that earn $40,000 or less pay no federal income tax and many even get cash refunds. But we pay $121 billion in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. Even those families who make between $40,000 and $75,000-pay three times as much in payroll tax as in federal income tax—nearly $190 billion of the former and just $64 billion of the latter. The total income for a household has to exceed $100,000 more before income tax is a bigger cost than payroll taxes. Bottom line: Wealthy people get a tax cut.

The big winner in the tax bill, however, is business. The new law sharply drops what corporations and small business pay in federal income taxes. The Tax Policy Center calculates that savings at nearly three times as much for business owners in 2019 as for people who whose primary source of income is wages or salaries. The Tax Policy Center found that all households would get an average 2019 tax cut of about 1.6 percent of after-tax income (roughly $1,200). Those who make most of their income from wages would get a tax cut of about 1.5 percent of after-tax income, or about $1,200. But owners of pass-through businesses such as partnerships and sole proprietorships would get an average tax cut of 4.3 percent of their after-tax income (about $4,300).

It’s important to note that corporate taxes have gone up in recent years, but are not at historically high levels (as shown in this Tax Policy Center chart.) During the 1950s corporate taxes were 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

 

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One way Congress looks at business taxes is to account for “pass through” taxes. So if you earn money as, say, a freelancer. Then you can deduct expenses on another form. This process could be useful to a few people in Indian Country. If you do work that could be considered a “business” (and make enough to pay income taxes) make sure that you are set up as a business because you will pay less tax under this new law.

So lots of people — and especially companies — will pay less in federal taxes. And the federal treasury will have a lot less funding as a result.

“The tax bill will provide a bonanza to the most well-off Americans and profitable corporations, even as it leads millions of Americans to lose health coverage and ultimately raises taxes on many low- and middle-income Americans,” writes Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “And, faced with criticism that the tax bill will swell budget deficits, President Trump and House Republican leaders have made clear that one of their top priorities for 2018 will be to use the fast-track budget “reconciliation” process — the same process they used to pass the tax bill — to cut assistance programs that aid millions of struggling families, to try again to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cut Medicaid, or both.”

The process of reconciliation means that budget cuts next year could pass the Senate with only 50 votes — all Republicans. That’s awful. But the good news is that even might be a huge hurdle for Republican leaders. The problem is that the Republican majority is not sure what it wants. Some members want more money for the military and are willing to work with Democrats (who want money for domestic programs to make that so). Others want stark budget cuts; sequester times X. Others just want to find a deal of some kind, something that governs the country.

We already know these divisions are deep because the Republican-only majority has been unable to pass a budget for 2018 (which started October 1). The government is running on a temporary spending bill that expires Jan. 19. Right now the House is working off a funding level that would significantly increase defense spending and slight reduce domestic programs. The Senate is basically working off last year’s budget.

That’s all well and good for now but remember the pressure will increase to balance the budget as the cost of the tax legislation is calculated. As the National Congress of American Indians said: “The current tax reform legislation amounts to little more than a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next ten years. This deficit increase will inevitably create pressure to cut federal programs and services that are extremely important to tribal communities. Deficit-financed tax cuts that lead to austerity budget cuts would affect all Americans, but would disproportionately impact American Indians and Alaska Natives who rely on federal funding of the trust responsibility as well as social programs.”

Congress is governing at two and three week intervals because there are not enough votes to pass a real budget. And that’s not a good sign going forward because the budget only gets more complicated next year because of other issues that Congress has been avoiding.

Happy New Year.

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. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

Trahant Reports is on iTunes or Soundcloud. Download here. 

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Rep. Peggy Flanagan and Congressman Tim Walz continue their partnership in Minnesota. Flanagan is running for Lt. Governor and Walz Governor as Democratic Farmer Labor Party candidates. (Campaign photo)

Trahant Reports

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has scheduled a news conference Wednesday to announce his pick for the U.S. Senate. The StarTribune reports it will be, as expected, his Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

“In selecting Smith, the governor is choosing one of his most trusted advisers and someone who has worked for years traveling the state and building relationships with influential DFLers (Democrats) and business leaders,” the StarTribune said.

That’s all well and good. It’s business as usual. The safe bet. Then we in Indian Country know what could have been … and why Peggy Flanagan would have made history. Then, here is the good part, she’s still a candidate for Lt. Gov. in November 2018. And there is reason to think that down the road she could very well be the inside pick for such an office. And so we ought to do all we can to see that Flanagan wins her race. There are six Democrats running in the Minnesota primary for governor. (Flanagan is running with U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and she is the only declared candidate for Lt. Gov.) At least seven Republicans are also seeking election to the Minnesota governor’s office.

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This is a Google fusion table with three tabs. The first is a spreadsheet; second is note cards for each candidate, and tab 3 is the interactive map.

Then November already looks to be interesting. There are now eleven Native candidates running for Congress, Governor, and Lt. Gov. There are also new candidates running for state legislatures, county commissions, and to run cities. Give President Donald Trump credit: His actions (or is that his craziness?) encourages people to run for office. We need more of that, not less.  (I will post a legislative preview of Native candidates in January.)

Voters in Virginia and Alabama are demonstrating that there is a growing wave; one that could reshape Congress, state houses, and legislatures.

— Mark Trahant

 

 

 

 

Trahant Reports

Updated list of candidate for Congress and statewide offices. Working now on the list of candidates for state legislatures. (Drop me a line if you know of a candidate who ought to be in this database. Thanks. Mark.)

This is a Google fusion table with three tabs. The first is a spreadsheet; second is note cards for each candidate, and tab 3 is the interactive map.

 

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Grid: Yellow pins are Independents; Red, Republicans; Blue, Democrats and Green for Green Party. (Trahant Reports)

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