Eleven words that should serve as a warning from the State of the Union

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(White House photo)

The state of democratic institutions

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

I skipped watching the State of the Union last night. That was the first time in, well, a couple of decades. There was really no reason to watch. I figured President Donald J. Trump would set out to be presidential in tone, but his words would largely be the more of the same.

It wasn’t a boycott on my part. I just didn’t care to listen. It’s so much less stressful to read the text later.

The State of the Union is a joint session of Congress. The House of Representatives is jammed with its members, the Senate, members of the Supreme Court, the cabinet, and invited guests. A fitting place for these eleven words said by the president: “Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill …”

The topic was infrastructure. But the problem of Congress producing a bill should be the greater question.

Instead of watching the State of the Union I was reading about the Ancien Régime, the end of the monarchy in France, the time just before the revolution.

I am especially interested in the mechanics of the Estates General. This was a legislative body with no official power (the king held that). The First Estate was the clergy, the wealthiest community in France at the time, owning about ten percent of all the land and exempt from all taxes. The Second Estate was the nobility. Still rich. Just not as rich as the priests. At least on a per capita basis. (And did own about a third of all the country’s property.) The Third Estate was supposed to be everyone else, but in practice it was really the bourgeoisie, the merchants, the lawyers, the folks who had some money and some property.

At first each “estate” had an equal vote. But there were only about 10,000 members of the clergy, about 400,000 nobles, and 25 million people. So representatives that accounted for about 3 percent of the population could out vote the 97 percent.

The Estates General had one essential mission: Approve a budget. But for more than a decade that body could not find the votes.

The opening of the Estates General would have been a familiar scene to those watching the pomp of a State of the Union. “Louis XVI … as a peaceful king, he declared himself ‘the people’s greatest friend.’” Make France Great Again, right?

There are two things from that era that ought to be a concern in the United States. The absolute imbalance between representation in the legislature and the population. And the inability to come together and agree on a spending plan.

Two of the three bodies in the Estate General wanted to tax everybody else. The Third Estate, the people, knew that meant them.

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The Republican plan at least pretends to cut taxes for everybody (all the while growing the deficit beyond reason). But rich corporations (our version of the Second Estate) get permanent tax breaks while the majority does not. If you look at the data since the 1950s the Corporate Estate taxes have been shrinking dramatically. (The United States has mostly paid for these tax cuts by increasing the payroll tax, the money that comes out of our paychecks.)

Just before the Revolution, the French government was facing all sorts of fiscal problems. As French economists Thomas Sargent and François Velde wrote in the Journal of Political Economy that after wars (including the cost of the American Revolution) there was a call to cut government spending across the board. And tax revenues “grew too slowly, causing debt service to increase. By 1788, as in 1770 and during the Regency, the inexorable compounding of interest brought France to a fiscal crisis. France in the grips of some ‘unpleasant arithmetic.’”

There is unpleasant arithmetic in our future. Especially when Congress cannot reach a reasonable conclusion about spending. The richest country on the planet is budgeting over the course of a few weeks.

The other issue that ought to be a concern is the destruction of basic democracy. The Estates General was completely illogical (one-third, one-third, one third) and it eventually reformed so that the people had at least as twice as much representation as the church and nobles. But that system was still way out of whack.

That, too, is America. It’s not quite as bad. Yet.

“Americans are dreamers, too,” President Trump said when he talked about his ideas on immigration. That’s odd. Which Americans have access, politically at least, to those dreams?

There are 3.5 million citizens in Puerto Rico who cannot vote for Congress, the Senate, or president. There are less than 3.5 million citizens living in Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska and South Dakota. Those citizens are represented by ten United States Senators and five members of the House of Representatives. And don’t get me started about California’s place in this mess. (It’s not democratic and it’s not fair.)

It’s not the electoral college. And it’s mostly not gerrymandering. The imbalance in the U.S. system of democracy is old and structural. It’s about geography and who gets counted as voters. (A problem that is sure to grow in the next census.) And on top of that state legislatures are working to make it harder to vote, even further limiting democratic representation.

The Economist this week published its index of democracies. “America sits in 21st place in the ranking, level with Italy. It remains a “flawed democracy” for the second year in a row,” the magazine said. The index uses index 60 indicators across five broad categories—electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties—and “concludes that less than 5 percent of the world’s population currently lives in a “full democracy.”

Seems to me that would be a good goal for any State of the Union. “So tonight I am calling on the Estates General * cough* I mean Congress to produce a bill …” 

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 

 

Trump Reality Show is unbelievable, but hides the real off-screen Medicaid attacks

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The best moment for the new Trump Administration was the one where the president smiled in Saudi Arabia and said only 26 words in public. This was terrible reality TV but we all watched knowing that it was likely just a pause. Something outrageous must be coming up next. Meanwhile, beyond the distraction, Republicans work to dismantle the most successful government health insurance for the poor, Medicaid. (White House photo)

 

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Reality TV works for one simple reason: The antics of the characters are beyond what’s believable in fiction. It’s compelling drama because normal people do not do such things. So part of watching is to find out when the story arc ends, to discover when the situation becomes “normal” again. (Even though the story does go on and on and on.)

That’s why the presidency of Donald J. Trump would make a terrible novel or screenplay: There’s no mechanism to suspend disbelief. Tell the story about a four-month term in the White House, a time marked by so much chaos, unprofessionalism, and distraction, and a reader (and especially an editor or producer) would shake their head and say, “Try again. This story is not believable.”

That’s why only the metaphor of reality TV works. America the unbelievable.

Last week the best moment of the new Trump Administration was the one where the president smiled in Saudi Arabia and said only 26 words. This was terrible reality TV but we all watched knowing that it was likely just a pause. Something outrageous must be coming up next.

The White House Reality Show is entertaining.

Meanwhile more important stories are still being written and played off-screen. That’s why our focus must return to the policy fights ahead: How this country (and our planet) deal with climate change, how we stop the rigging of elections, and, how we make certain the court system is fair. Next week the White House will formally send Congress its budget plan for the next year. We already know this plan will be nonsense. Another distraction. The real work of budgeting will occur in Congress and it will require votes from both Democrats and Republicans to make it so.

At a House hearing last week, for example, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) said he was disappointed in a White House recommendation to cut  $5.8 billion from next year’s funding for the National Institutes of Health. He such a draconian cut would stall so much progress from recent investments.

In other words: No sale. Across the Congress, across the government, this same notion is being repeated. Eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcast? No sale. Down the list the message is much the same, eliminate the Denali Commission? No sale. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Paying for health care

But while Congress might rewrite the budget in some areas, there are real dangers ahead. I’m obsessed with what this bunch is doing to the funding streams for health care, especially Medicaid.

This is what the Trump Show hides: The House’s American Health Care Act does much more than roll back the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare as they like to say.) It ends a Medicaid program that works. It’s the single most effective form of “government” insurance that secures health care options for 62.3 million Americans. To add a little perspective here: Medicare — supposedly untouchable in politics — insures 43.3 million seniors.

These are huge numbers.  Medicaid is expensive. And we all pay for this plan. As we should. It’s one of the best things this country does.

So it’s no wonder that Speaker Paul Ryan and Republicans are eager to make this go away (both because it costs so much and because it requires a lot of taxes to pay for this enterprise).

This is an issue where the philosophical divisions run deep. Every Republican wants to spend less federal money on this program. Significantly less. Once you do that, there will be fewer people who participate in this public insurance program. That’s math, not politics. The House plan (according to the Congressional Budget Office) strips $880 billion from Medicaid funding in order to reduce health care taxes on wealthy people by $883 billion. Tit for tat.

Watch this debate closely. Parse every word. The Republicans in the Senate who say they champion Medicaid often only talk about Medicaid expansion. And that’s followed by, there should be a transition to something else (namely, block grants that states cannot afford). What else? How does that work? And who pays?

At a town hall in Anchorage last week, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan followed this script to the letter. According to The Alaska Dispatch News the Republican senator told a contentious town hall, that he wanted to make sure the people who received health care coverage under Medicaid expansion “do not have the rug pulled out from under them.” Medicaid for now. Then something else. What else? How does that work? And who pays?

The answer is to protect the framework of Medicaid (and if we were smart, enhance and expand it). It’s the one part of Indian health funding that’s growing and already accounts for the insurance of record for more than half of all our children. (And, this is really important, third-party insurance billing, which includes Medicaid, is money that stays at a local IHS clinic or hospital. It does not go into the general budget.)

Medicaid is a partnership between the federal government and the states. So states set many of the rules, federal government then agrees or not, and pays only a portion of the bill. But patients within the Indian Health system are usually eligible for a 100 percent reimbursement.

So states set the rules for Indian Country — including limitations — yet don’t pay the cost. Already six states are already looking to tighten Medicaid rules. Arizona is keen on adding work requirements. Wisconsin wants drug testing (imagine the trap that sets for patients in opioid treatment programs). Maine wants to test assets beyond income. The goal of each new regulation is to shrink the number of people insured by Medicaid.

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Medicaid works, especially in Indian Country

I’ve heard Republicans say they like the results of Medicaid but that we as a country cannot afford it. That’s particularly troubling because Medicaid is more efficient that private insurance. (Even with its convoluted payments from the federal government to states and Indian health programs). How can that be? Julia Paradise, associate director of the Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured for the Kaiser Family Foundation, says Medicaid acts as a “high risk pool.” Because so many people are excluded (or out-priced) from private insurance Medicaid is the only option. “Among adult Medicaid enrollees who are not working, illness or disability is the main reason. By covering many of the poorest and sickest Americans, Medicaid effectively serves as a high-risk pool for the private health insurance market, taking out the highest-cost people, thereby helping to keep private insurance premiums more affordable.”

And, as Paradise notes in the recent report, “10 Things to Know about Medicaid: Setting the Facts Straight,” evidence continues to mount that Medicaid improves health outcomes. This is especially true when it comes to detecting and treating diabetes, mental health programs, and research has found that Medicaid expansions for adults were associated with significant reductions in mortality.

The Senate is now busy rewriting the House’s awful health bill. It will be a different entity, that’s for sure. But will the Senate protect (and if they are smart, enhance and expand) the best basic public health insurance program that we have now? There is no evidence to suggest that. And too many people are watching reality TV to even notice.

 

 

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 credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

Congress has a spending plan for this year, saving budget fights for another day

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The White House priorities such as the border wall or the defunding of arts and public broadcasting are missing from this year’s spending plan. (Trahant file photo)

Trahant Reports

Congress has a spending plan. And it rejects most (but not all) of President Donald J. Trump’s priorities. It also includes more money for most federal Indian programs.

But remember: This is a short budget. It’s only enough money to fund government operations through the end of September.

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) said: “This package of the remaining Appropriations bills is the result of over a year’s worth of careful and dedicated efforts to closely examine federal programs to make the best possible use of every tax dollar. This legislation will fund critical federal government activities, including our national defense, and enact responsible funding decisions to target U.S. investments where they are needed the most. It also maintains and enhances policies that bolster economic growth and support the core values that our nation is built upon.”

About a week ago I wrote that the best option for Congress was for “the White House to work with Democrats and spend money on their priorities. It’s the basic formula that has led to enactments of budgets for the past 8 years. The bargain would mean continued spending for domestic programs as well as add money to the military. The wall? No. Cutting support for Planned Parenthood? Get serious. And health care funding? That’s why it’s called the art of the deal.”

That’s essentially what happened. But it wasn’t the White House. It was Republican leaders in Congress that did the deal.  The military budget increased $25 billion over current levels. There was also an additional $1.5 billion for border security.

Both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service will get a slight boost from this budget.

From the House Appropriations Committee:

American Indian and Alaska Native Programs – The Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Education are funded at $2.9 billion – an increase of $69 million above fiscal year 2016. This includes necessary increases for schools, law enforcement, road maintenance, and economic development.

The Indian Health Service is funded at $5.0 billion – an increase of $232 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. This includes operating costs for staffing at new facilities, and increases for rising contract support costs, medical inflation, and a growing and aging population.

But the Environmental Protection Agency takes a hit. “The bill funds the EPA at $8.06 billion, a reduction of $81.4 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $209 million below President Obama’s budget request,” the Committee said. “Within this total, the EPA’s research and regulatory programs are reduced by $52 million below the current level and over $300 million below the previous administration’s request.”

However the bill will add $75 million to speed up Superfund cleanup projects.

The fight over the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities is saved for another day too, the bill includes $150 million for each of the endowments, $2 million above the fiscal year 2016 level. A similar story for the Corporation for Public Broadcast. The bill includes an advance appropriation of $445 million for CPB for fiscal year 2019, which is the same level of advance funding provided in the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and the previous Administration’s budget request.

Another White House budget item for next year — cutting funding for the Violence Against Women Act — is also a no go in this budget. The House committee says “funds are increased within the highest-priority grant programs, including $481.5 million for the Violence Against Women programs and $403 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants.”

Congress must still vote on the spending bill. But the prospects are strong because Democrats are on board so it only takes a handful of Republicans to make it law.

More on the budget here. — Mark Trahant

 

This week Republicans have a nearly impossible task: Fund government, start their wall & get votes from Democrats

 

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The new health care team: President Donald J. Trump (clockwise from left) Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Secretary Tom Price, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Vice President Mike Pence in an Oval Office meeting last month. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

 

Brace for another government shutdown

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Can President Donald J. Trump and the Republicans actually govern? As we near the 100th day mark the answer has been a loud “no.” So far. This week the Congress and the president will once again try for wins to fund the government, repeal the Affordable Care Act, extra money for Defense, and to construct a wall on the southern border. A nearly impossible order.

The House of Representatives does not have a governing coalition. There remains, essentially, three parties: Republicans, Democrats, and the Freedom Caucus. Two of these three groups must work together in order to pass any legislation. And to complicate the politics even more, many of the Republican members are already worried about their own re-election, so they might not support their own party’s leaders. Especially if that deal is sanctioned by the Freedom Caucus.

Yet Speaker Paul Ryan told his caucus Saturday that funding the government is the priority. The president was equally optimistic. “I think we’re in good shape,” President Trump said.

There are two budgets at issue. First there is the one proposed by the White House, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” That budget would not begin until October and would result in a dramatic restructuring of the federal government. Many members of Congress have said there is no chance this budget will be enacted as proposed.

But this week there is another budget problem. Congress must pass budget extension for this year by April 29 or there will be another government shutdown.

Shutting the government has become too common: On Indigenous People’s Day in 1990 (Ok, back then it was called, Columbus Day) President Bush sent workers home after Congress failed to enact a spending bill. Then during the Clinton years there was a five-day closure in 1995 and another three-week shutdown in 1996. There was a 16-day shutdown in 2013, followed by the double-whammy of sequestration. Tribal governments were impacted almost immediately and had to suspend nutrition programs, foster care, law enforcement, schools and health care. Some tribes had to temporarily layoff workers.

A policy report by the National Congress of American Indians put this in perspective: “For many tribes, a majority of tribal governmental services is financed by federal sources. Tribes lack the tax base and lack parity in tax authority to raise revenue to deliver services. If federal funding is reduced sharply for state and local governments, they may choose between increasing their own taxes and spending for basic services or allowing their services and programs to take the financial hit. On the other hand, many tribes have limited ability to raise substantial new revenue, especially not rapidly enough to cover the reduction in services from the across the board reductions of the FY 2013 sequestration.”

That could be the good old days. The prospect of a serious meltdown is a far greater possibility in 2017 than it was four years ago.

First of all the White House is incompetent. Instead of laying out a plan that will lead to a working majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate it has offered nonsense. “I think we’ve made it very clear that we want border wall funding, we want greater latitude to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer said last week. “We want hiring of immigration agents, and we want $30 billion to infuse the military budget. Those are our priorities.”

That adds up to a blank check for the wall and immigration control, at least $30 billion for Defense, and a cut of at least $18 billion to domestic spending.

Those priorities are not possible without at least a few Democratic votes in the Senate (unless the rules are changed) because it takes 60 votes to approve any new Continuing Resolution. There are only 52 Republicans. So which Democrats are going to favor punishing sanctuary cities? How about none. And that’s only point one. Leaders in the House will need nearly every Republican to vote yes as well, something that’s always unlikely.

(Building a coalition with Democrats is even more important when you consider that Congress must soon raise the national debt limit, something that many Republicans always oppose without conditions that are unacceptable to Democrats.)

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But this week what makes a government shutdown even more likely is that the White House, Republicans, and Democrats, are all staking out claims on a variety of issues.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he would not vote for another budget extension unless it increases military funding. In the past, Democrats have gone along with that notion as long as there is a mechanism to protect domestic programs budget cuts, including those that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

But the Trump administration (here is that competence thing) is already acting if its stingy budget is the law, telling agencies to shrink and reduce the number of federal employees.

An April 12 memo from OMB Director Mick Mulvaney says: “The president’s FY 2018 Budget request to Congress will propose decreasing or eliminating funding for many programs across the federal government, and in some cases redefining agency missions. The president’s FY 2018 Budget should drive agencies’ planning for workforce reductions and inform their Agency Reform Plans, consistent with final 2017 appropriations and current applicable legal requirements. OMB and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will work with agencies to facilitate reductions in the size of their workforce and monitor progress.”

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Congress is unlikely to go along with President Trump’s budget plan. Unlikely is too strong a word. How about? There is absolutely no way to get 216 votes for such a radical restructuring of the entire federal government. But programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives could be hit hard if there is another government shutdown.  (Trahant photo)

Yet there is no way Congress will agree with the restructuring of the federal government as proposed. The votes are not there. But the OMB is basically moving forward anyway, directing agencies to “begin implementing some reforms immediately while others will require congressional action.”

The White House message is stick it in your eye, Congress. (Oh, by the way, we still need your votes.)

So how does the White House move the ball forward? By threatening Democrats over the Affordable Care Act by proposing an exchange one dollar of funding for health care for every dollar spent on the wall. That took Democrats a few seconds to well, uh, no.

And coming next week the president said on Twitter that he will announce “big tax reform and tax reduction.”

That will subtract a few more votes for everything else that needs to happen this week.

Of course there is a way of out of this mess. The White House could work with Democrats and spend money on their priorities. It’s the basic formula that has led to enactments of budgets for the past 8 years. The bargain would mean continued spending for domestic programs as well as add money to the military. The wall? No. Cutting support for Planned Parenthood? Get serious. And health care funding? That’s why it’s called the art of the deal.

There are three doors on the governing stage. Door number one: An impasse and a government shutdown. Door number two: A deal with Democrats. And door number three: A short-term budget extension so the debate can go on. And on. And on.

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 credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

 

Quick note before today’s vote

Good morning.
No post this morning, but a couple of thoughts before the House vote on the plan to repeal & replace the Affordable Care Act.
President Trump has made this an either, or vote for House members. With the president or not? Are they more worried about a primary from Trump supporters or their own constituents? As I wrote yesterday, Alaska’s Rep. Don Young will be worth watching on that score. This bill is terrible for Alaska. And a “yes” vote will be risky come election time. Or will Trump supporters use this an opportunity to take on Young in the primary?
Second point (and future stories) If this is end of repeal and replace, then the action will shift (as it already has) to the rule making process. Secretary Tom Price has a lot of power to make deals with the states on how ACA is implemented (and for that matter, Medicaid).
Third. It’s really interesting to see the new round of leaks coming from the White House. They were against this whole thing from the beginning, see. Blame is directed to Paul Ryan. (Trump’s news favorite Brietbart even calls this bill RyanCare.) So the question is what does this do to Ryan’s speakership going forward (if he continues in office)? As I wrote the budget divisions ahead are even greater than those that surfaced in the health care policy debate.
That’s it for now. Working on something not-Trump-related for the weekend. — Mark

Remember the sequester? Trump budget would make those the good old days

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Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Remember the sequester? Ah, the good old days. The new Trump Administration budget is short on details, but clear on direction. And we do know two things. First: If enacted, this budget would shrink the federal government to a much smaller size. Except for the military and the Veterans Administration. And, second, this budget guarantees chaos ahead.

Thursday morning the White House officially released the “skinny budget.” That’s an overall statement about the president’s financial goals for the year. It lists priorities, but provides few details. And this document does even less of that than previous skinny budgets. But the agenda, the direction ahead, would create a very different federal government. There is money available to approve (and pretend to regulate) energy projects, but nothing, really nothing, for public broadcasting, the arts, and the humanities. All told some 19 federal agencies would be eliminated.

This is where I should add: Hold on! Every one of these agencies has a constituency in Congress. You’ll see 535 budget revisions coming soon with members working to restore funding, and in some cases, even increasing the total amount of appropriation. But the overall direction is less. This is the eighth year of a slowing (and perhaps shrinking) federal government.

This is also where chaos kicks in. The political tension that surfaced in Congress over the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act will only magnify in this budget debate. And to pass this budget, Republican leaders will need votes from Democrats. And if there is no agreement, then there could a shutdown of the government that could last much longer than previous episodes. The best case scenario is a continuing resolution that results in cuts, but not as dramatic as those proposed by the White House.

So let’s try to make some sense of the president’s proposal as how it relates to Indian Country.

First throughout the document there is only one reference that include the phrase, “and Tribes.” The Obama administration often added that language to routine grants and programs for states and local governments to make it clear that tribes were eligible partners. No more.

The budget does not directly put a number on the Indian Health Service. It only lists IHS as part of the overall budget for the Department of Health and Human Services. That agency “requests $69.0 billion for HHS, a $15.1 billion or 17.9 percent decrease” from the Continuing Resolution level. The first mention in that request includes IHS (that must be good, right?) “The President’s 2018 Budget: Supports direct health care services, such as those delivered by community health centers, Ryan White HIV/AIDS providers, and the Indian Health Service. These safety net providers deliver critical health care services to low-income and vulnerable populations.”

The way this budget will work is that each department will figure out how to make the 18 percent cut (as I said, if it comes to that).

Many have compared this Trump budget to the Reagan-era budgets. I remember how that worked for IHS. The president would drop a number — and Congress would ignore it. Every time. That could happen again.

One interesting increase in the HHS budget is a request for $70 million to prosecute health care fraud. It claims a $5 return for every dollar spent tracking down “fraudulent or improper payments.”

The Department of Interior budget does not provide much information about the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It only says the  budget: “Supports tribal sovereignty and self-determination across Indian Country by focusing on core funding and services to support ongoing tribal government operations. The Budget reduces funding for more recent demonstration projects and initiatives that only serve a few Tribes.” The budget says it will “sustain” funding for programs that bring in revenue from natural resources, including those programs that serve Indian mineral owners.

The budget would eliminate several independent agencies that serve Indian Country, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Denali Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. (Irony: A news release last week asked for tribal applications for next round of grants.)

Many of these agencies will show a number in the budget because that reflects the cost to close the agency. Or as OMB put it “the amount of money that’s necessary for us to unwind our involvement …”

In addition Agriculture would eliminate the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program, Commerce would eliminate the Minority Business Development Agency and NOAA grants supporting coastal and marine management. At Energy the budget would eliminate the weatherization program. At HHS, the budget proposes to end Community Services Block Grants as well as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Homeland Security would sharply curtail or eliminate grants to states and local governments (tribes, I assume). Even Meals on Wheels programs for seniors would be eliminated. 

Another program that is slated for elimination is the Transportation Department’s Essential Air Service for rural airports — including those that serve remote reservation and 60 Alaska Native communities.

The only mention of “and Tribes” in the budget proposal is at the Environmental Protection Agency where the budget will avoid duplication by “concentrating EPA’s enforcement of environmental protection violations on programs that are not delegated to States, while providing oversight to maintain consistency and assistance across State, local, and tribal programs.”

The actual numbers of this budget mean little. They will go up and down. Some of the headlines, such as the elimination of public broadcasting, will survive because of support found in Congress. But it’s important to remember that this is the president’s agenda. This administration is hostile to every program that’s identified. So even if those programs are funded, the agencies will have a difficult task going forward.

Some of this agenda is nonsense. There are two ways to spend money on global warming: Learning about the science and trying to change behavior to lower carbon dioxide emissions. Or money for higher sea walls and community mitigation. This budget cuts the latter. That won’t work for long. When a community is severely impacted by fires or other climate catastrophe, the money will have to follow. Period.

But for now the debate is all about the president’s plan.

As OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said at the White House briefing room on Wednesday: “This is the “America First” budget.  In fact, we wrote it using the President’s own words.  We went through his speeches, we went through articles that have been written about his policies, we talked to him, and we wanted to know what his policies were, and we turned those policies into numbers. So you have an “America First” candidate, you have an “America First” budget.”

Only that’s a budget that means significantly less for the First Americans.

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 credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

Working: A few ideas on the coming federal budgets


In a few days we will see what kind of federal budgets actually surface. Right now there is a lot of posturing going on: 
— From the Trump White House that wants to shrink government dramatically.
— From agencies that want to keep as much of the funding as they have now.
— And from states. Remember state budgets must balance. So slow down of some kind (even if it’s a result of less federal funding) will have to be made up with new program cuts and taxes.


I am trying to think through how to tell this as a story for Indian Country. 
What are the impacts? How many people will lose their jobs? What’s the implication for, say, salmon when the NOAA budget is cut dramatically. Or the EPA budget for ongoing projects on tribal lands?
I am starting with a spreadsheet, a history of BIA spending.
https://dhttps://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1QoPydklTVAyJlumD5fFO4RLsvJMwvPR551fa-Fp2FTo/edit?usp=sharingocs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1QoPydklTVAyJlumD5fFO4RLsvJMwvPR551fa-Fp2FTo/edit?usp=sharing
#KeepUp
#NativePolicy

President Trump speaks to Congress; budget plan shifts billions to military

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Deborah Parker will be a witness to the president’s speech to Congress Tuesday night as the guest of Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore.

A reminder about what’s at stake from Congressional gallery

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

President Donald J. Trump is set to deliver a financial blow to Indian Country. His first budget will propose cuts of at least $54 billion and an amount that he will add to Defense Spending.

The president will check off his promises from the campaign (even those that make no sense), according to Politico.  “He’s doing what he said he was going to do.”

The budget cuts will come on top of already lean federal spending based on the budget deal that Congress made in 2011 resulting in the sequester. The budget specifics have not been released yet, but to give you an idea about how steep these cuts are, the entire Interior Department budget is $14 billion. So to reach the $54 billion total there would have to be federal programs eliminated.

And that math is a problem. “Accounting for the increase in Veterans Administration (VA) funding that Congress has already approved for 2018 and assuming that Congress doesn’t cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security below current levels, the cut to all other non-defense discretionary programs would be 15 percent,” writes Sharon Parrott, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. ” And if Congress raises homeland security funding above this year’s level, as is likely (news reports indicate the Administration will boost funding for border security), or if Congress raises VA funding further (which is also likely), cuts in other Non-Defense, Domestic areas would have to be even deeper.”

Several reports say the White House is planning a cut of 25 to 30 percent for the Environmental Protection Administration, the State Department, and the Department of Energy. Of course Congress, not the president, has the final word. And there is already problems on that front. Many conservatives are not happy that this budget leaves in tact entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. What’s more: There are Republicans in the House and Senate who will push back against the steep cuts at the agencies. Basically this represents the White House’s opening bid.

One program the White House wants to wipe out is the Justice Department’s Violence Against Women Act office. That agency funds tribal governments “respond to violent crimes against Indian women, enhance victim safety, and develop education and prevention strategies.”  The program funded 53 domestic violence programs last year at a cost of some $33 million.

Deborah Parker, former vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes, will be in the House gallery for the joint session. She was invited by Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, to act as a reminder that the president’s agenda will hurt real people across the country. Parker is an important voice for Native American women on domestic violence issues. She worked tirelessly to get the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized in 2013 and to make sure that Indian Country was included in its provisions. The most controversial part of the law was the recognition of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians for domestic violence crimes. The number of prosecutions since the law has been enacted remains small as tribes have been slow to incorporate VAWA into tribal codes.

And wiping out the Justice Department program that funds such efforts will only make that transition more difficult. But there are many allies in Congress for the program and there will be a fight to continue funding this effort.

Parker said she was told she was invited by Rep. Moore because she was “tired of how the Trump administration was treating Native Americans, including Native women. The way he’s treated Standing Rock, the way he’s treated women in general.” Rep. Moore wanted a symbolic gesture, inviting a Native American woman to the Joint Session.

And the bad news ahead? “I am going to pray about it. Prayer is what gets us through everything,” Parker said. “I am going to pray for everyone in that room that they open their ears, their minds, their hearts, to the heartbeat of these lives of the nation.”

Parker said “you never know what to expect when you go to DC.” But she plans on talking to every member of Congress who will listen about the issues facing tribal communities. “Show your face. Being present is a big thing, a Native person present and being able to speak with a member. Not everyone knows the issues. But as long as you are there to shake their hand, let them know who you are, and, to remember the indigenous peoples of these lands. That’s a place to start.”

President Trump’s talking points include an “an optimistic vision for the country that crosses the traditional lines of party, race and socioeconomic status.” The president’s speech will “reach out to Americans living in the poorest and most vulnerable communities, and let them know that help is on the way.”

Empty words when the budget cuts the White House is proposing will only make life more difficult for millions of Americans.

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 credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About that repeal business, Democrats pick a party boss, and Peggy Flanagan

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Minnesota Rep. Peggy Flanagan (DFL-St. Louis Park) at the women’s march. (Campaign photo).

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

A short post for a big week: We should start to see some budget numbers coming out of the White House (as soon as today). Early reports suggest sharp cuts for domestic spending as well as increases for Defense. I’ll update once I see if that framework includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education, Indian Health Service, and other federal programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

President Donald J. Trump could also refer to his spending plan in his speech to Congress on Tuesday.

The other big news is the ongoing problems the Republicans are having repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

An analysis of the Congressional framework for repeal and replace would be a disaster for state governments and millions of Americans would lose coverage.  According to Sarah Kliff writing for Vox:  “The report estimates that coverage declines would be even higher in states that did not expand Medicaid — largely those run by Republican governors. There, the report presents an example of a state with 235,000 in the individual market. It estimates that coverage would decline by 120,000 people, about 50 percent.”

The presentation did not address the Indian health system. But the slides do make the case against converting Medicaid into a block grant program because states would have less federal funding when the need is greatest (such as during a recession). Remember states are partners with the federal government in Medicaid, but patients in the Indian health system are funded by a federal reimbursement. So this is a critical debate.

I want to come back to this theme later: But Indian Country has a solution. At least for now. Every proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will take time. So for now. Right now. There should be a renewed push to enroll Indian Health patients (who don’t already have insurance) in Medicaid or the Bronze Plan from a state or federal insurance exchange. The exchange plan is free. This health insurance coverage should be good for a least a year. This is money that a Trump budget cannot strip from the Indian Health system.

And the week starts off with the Democratic National Committee having new leadership. Over the weekend Tom Perez was elected chair and he immediately appointed Keith Ellison as his deputy. 

I have read from so many friends on social media who see this contest as a policy debate. It is not. It’s about who will make sure there are candidates running. That those candidates have support and money. And there is a machinery that’s built. The policy debates are down the road.

But this DNC election does mean that Minnesota Rep. Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe) won’t be launching a bid for Congress. (Yet.)

(Previous post: Turning fear into fight.)

Flanagan posted on Facebook:  “Earlier today, the DNC elected Tom Perez Chair, to lead the party and I congratulate him on his victory. I also want to applaud our Congressman Keith Ellison for running a strong campaign based on positive ideas for the future of our party.

Obviously, this means that I am not running for Congress now and I’m excited to keep working with Keith to build the movement we need to win and protect victories for real progressive change.

“I will continue to work with you to turn our fear into fight, our emotion into empathy, our sorrow into strategy, and our despair into hope. I am incredibly grateful for all your support. Miigwech (Thank You).”

And she’s right of course. There remains much to do to turn fear into fight. In Congress or not.

 

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 credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

A win from Washington and a funding challenge from the states to Congress

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Sen. John McCoy was the sponsor of Washington State legislation to authorize dental health therapy in tribal communities. (Senate photo)
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

We live in odd times. Congress is moving forward with promised legislation that will roll back much of the health care reform enacted during the past eight years. The Trump administration is issuing regulations to do the same. The key here is that President Donald J. Trump and Republicans in Congress have the votes (mostly). But in state capitals there are real debates about public policy. What happens next will be determined by lots of people working together.

The future of the Affordable Care Act is a case in point. Republicans in Congress are eager to ditch the law, but coming up with a replacement or even a fix is a much more difficult task. This is one issue where there are not enough votes in Congress to do anything. Yet.

But in state capitals there is an understanding that a wholesale repeal of the law could be a financial disaster for states that have already expanded Medicaid. So many Republicans at the state level, such as Ohio Gov. John Kaisch, are pushing back. He recently told CNN that that any repeal without addressing Medicaid expansion is a “very, very bad idea.”

But several of the states prefer a real solution, one that doesn’t grab as many headlines, yet would be practical. And that is to continue with current law and then Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price would grant states many more waivers to design the programs the way they want.

This makes more sense than a block grant because it keeps in place the idea that if people are eligible for Medicaid, then it will be funded. Under a block grant scenario, it’s likely the total amount would be capped and people who currently get insurance could lose that.  (Perhaps the most difficult problem is this: How do you protect the states that expanded Medicaid and still add funding to those states that said no?)

This is a huge issue for Indian Country because Medicaid could cover even more of the people who currently use the Indian health system.  (Best of all: Money from insurance is supposed to stay at the local healthcare facility.) States also come out ahead with American Indian and Alaska Native clients because the federal government is obligated to pick up the tab. It’s a 100 percent federal “match.”

This is one of those issues that divide Republicans, especially in Congress. The members who are listening to states understand the problem: What happens when you take away people’s health insurance? The answer is not good. And it’s even life or death for some people because without insurance there will be no medical care for ongoing issues.

This week in Washington state there was a victory for health care reform in Indian Country. The Legislature passed, and Gov. Jay Inslee, signed into law, a measure that opens up the practice of dental health therapy.

Dental health therapists are mid-level providers. They work under the supervision of a dentist and offer routine and preventive services, like dental exams; provide fillings; clean teeth; placing sealants; and perform simple tooth extractions. This law is important because it opens up Medicaid funding to pay for dental care. And it expands access making it much easier for patients to get appointments.

“We have one dentist to see more than 6,000 patients on the Colville Indian Reservation,” said Mel Tonasket, vice-chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes. “This law will help us hire a dental therapist to make sure our people are getting the oral health care they need.”

Most experts in health care reform argue for increasing value in health care by lowering costs and at the same time improving quality. This is that.

This oral health reform was started a decade ago by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. According to The Kellogg Foundation: Since then “45,000 Alaska Natives now have access to dental care and the dental health aide program has generated 76 full time jobs with a net economic effect of $9.7 million, one-third of which is spent in rural Alaska. Now, as a way to replicate the same dramatic oral healthcare improvements in Alaskan villages, i.e., reduced caries disease, healthier teeth and patient satisfaction with culturally competent care given by home-grown providers, tribes are blazing a trail to bring dental therapy to the lower 48 states as a high-quality, cost-effective strategy to reduce dental care shortages. Washington State is on the leading edge of this movement.”

This is a great example of the principle of lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way. A year ago Swinomish President Brian Cladoosby announced that the tribe was using its sovereign powers to hire a dental health therapist in contradiction to federal and state law. The case was clear that the tribe had the authority even while raising questions about Medicaid funding or licensing. (The American Dental Association was successful getting language into the Affordable Care Act that required state action.) But the state of Washington was reasonable and the result is the new law.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. John McCoy, a member of the Tulalip Tribes. “This is a tribal-based solution that will make a tremendous difference for Native people—especially children,” he said.

According to Kellogg: Dental therapists are now practicing in Minnesota, in addition to Native American communities in Alaska and Washington. They’ll soon be able to practice in Maine and Vermont and on tribal communities in Oregon. Several other states, including Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota and Ohio are exploring the potential for dental therapists to significantly improve oral health care for many more children and communities.

So look for more action and more success stories coming from state capitals.

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 credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com