Latest attack on Medicaid also sabotages Treaty Rights, Indian health programs

Agency Says Indian Health Should Not Be Exempt From Medicaid Work Rules Because They Are ‘Race-Based’

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Trump administration is supporting a major policy shift on Indian health programs which could result in a loss of millions of dollars and sabotage treaty rights.

A story in Politico Sunday raised the issue. It said “the Trump administration contends the tribes are a race rather than separate governments, and exempting them from Medicaid work rules — which have been approved in three states and are being sought by at least 10 others — would be illegal preferential treatment. ‘HHS believes that such an exemption would raise constitutional and federal civil rights law concerns,’ according to a review by administration lawyers,” Politico said.

The new policy on Medicaid work requirements “does not honor the duty of the federal government to uphold the government-to-government relationship and recognize the political status enshrined in the Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, and other federal laws, said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. “Our political relationship is not based upon race.”

“The United States has a legal responsibility to provide health care to Native Americans,” Mary Smith, who was acting head of the Indian Health Service during the Obama administration and is a member of the Cherokee Nation, told Politico. “It’s the largest prepaid health system in the world — they’ve paid through land and massacres — and now you’re going to take away health care and add a work requirement?”

Medicaid has become a key funding stream for the Indian health system — especially in programs managed by tribes and non-profits. Medicaid is a state-federal partnership and public insurance. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid eligibility, but the Supreme Court ruled that each state could decide whether or not to expand. Since the expansion of Medicaid some 237,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in 19 states have become insured.

Officially Medicaid represents 13 percent of the Indian Health Service’s $6.1 billion budget (just under $800 million).

But even that number is misleading because it does not include money collected from third-party billing from tribal and non-profit organizations. In Alaska, for example, the entire Alaska Native health system is operated by tribes or tribal organizations and the state says 40 percent of its $1.8 billion Medicaid budget is spent on Alaska Native patients. That one state approaches the entire “budgeted” amount for Medicaid.

Other states report similar increases. Kaiser Family Foundation found that in Arizona, one tribally-operated health system reported that about half of visits were by patients covered by Medicaid in 2016. And, an Urban Indian Health Program, reported that its uninsured rate at one clinic fell from 85 percent before the Affordable Care Act to under 10 percent.

Those Medicaid (and all insurance) dollars are even more significant because by law they remain with local service units where the patient is treated (and the insurance is billed). In Alaska more than two-thirds of those dollars are spent on private sector doctors and hospitals through purchased care for Alaska Native patients. And, unlike IHS funds, Medicaid is an entitlement. So if a person is eligible, the money follows.

A recent report by Kaiser Health News looked at Census data and found that 52 percent of residents in New Mexico’s McKinley County have coverage through the Medicaid.  That’s the highest rate among U.S. counties with at least 65,000 people. “The heavy concentration of Medicaid in this high-altitude desert is a result of two factors: the high poverty rate and the Indian Health Service’s relentless work to enroll patients in the program,” Kaiser reported. Most of McKinley County is located on the Navajo and Zuni reservations.


Kaiser Health News said Medicaid has opened up new opportunities for Native patients to “get more timely care, especially surgery and mental health services. It has been vital in combating high rates of obesity, teen birth, suicide and diabetes, according to local health officials.”

However the growth of Medicaid is resulting in unequal care for patients in the Indian health system. The benefits in some states, including those that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, are more generous. Other states not only refused to expand Medicaid and have been adding new restrictions such as requiring “able-bodied” adults to have their Medicaid eligibility contingent on work.

But the Indian health system — the federal Indian Health Service and tribally and nonprofit operated programs — are in a special case because there is a 100 percent federal match for most services. So states set the rules, but do not have to pay the bill. (Medicaid is often the second largest single item in a state budget behind public schools.)

Medicaid is the largest health insurance program in America, insuring one in five adults, and many with complex and long-term chronic care needs. The Trump administration and many state legislatures controlled by Republicans see Medicaid as a welfare program. While most Democrats view it simply as a public health insurance program.

Work rules are particularly challenging for Indian Country. Unlike other Medicaid programs, patients in the Indian health system will still be eligible to receive basic care. So stricter rules will mean fewer people will sign up for Medicaid and the Indian Health Service — already significantly underfunded — will have to pick up the extra costs from existing appropriations. That will result in less money, and fewer healthcare services, across the board.

A letter from the Tribal Technical Advisory Group for Medicare and Medicaid said American Indians and Alaska Natives “are among the nation’s most vulnerable populations, and rely heavily on the IHS for health care. However, the IHS is currently funded at around 60 percent of need, and average per capita spending for IHS patients is only $3,688.” The latest per person cost for health care nationally is $10,348 (totalling $3.3 trillion, nearly 20 percent of the entire economy).

The tribal advisory group said it is “critically important” that there be a blanket exemption for IHS beneficiaries from the mandatory work requirements.

A report in September by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives on Medicaid already work, yet continue to face high rates of poverty. It said over three-quarters of American Indians and Alaska Natives are in working families, but that’s a gap of about 8 percent compared to other Americans (83 percent).

The Trump administration’s characterization of tribal health programs as “race-based” is particularly troubling to tribal leaders because it would reverse historical precedence.

A memo last month from the law firm of Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “has ample legal authority to single out IHS beneficiaries for special treatment in administering the statutes under its jurisdiction if doing so is rationally related to its unique trust responsibility to Indians. Under familiar principles of Indian law, such actions are political in nature, and as a result do not constitute prohibited race based classifications. This principle has been recognized and repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court and every Circuit Court of Appeals that has considered it, and has been extended to the actions of Administrative Agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services even in the absence of a specific statute.”

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a Shoshone-Bannock tribal citzen. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Cross posted on Indian Country Today.

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)

 

Paul Ryan’s legacy includes ‘big ideas’ such as a voucher for Indian health

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House Speaker Paul Ryan said he will not run for re-election. His legacy includes a massive spending while calling for smaller government. (Photo by Vince Schilling / Indian Country Today)

 

Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today

Paul Ryan came to Washington to blow up Washington. He was first elected to represent his Wisconsin district at 28 years old. He campaigned over his career for a federal government that should shrink dramatically, spend far less, that taxes should be low, and the Republicans should be the party of big ideas.

Ryan announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election. He says he will complete his term as Speaker, but that’s not certain. He likely will face pressure to step down early, so another Republican can lead the party’s team into the November election. (More than forty Republicans have already announced their retirement contributing to the story about a coming Democratic wave.)

The Speaker leaves behind a different kind of legacy. He did get his tax cuts and substantial changes in the regulatory framework. But he also delivered more federal spending than ever. The deficit will hit $804 billion this year (a jump of 21 percent in a single year) and exceed $1 trillion by 2020. And, a new report by the Congressional Budget Office, says that a decade from now the total debt will be larger than the entire economy. “That amount is far greater than the debt in any year since just after World War II,” the CBO said Monday.

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The problem for Ryan, like Speaker John Boehner before him, is that the Republican majority is nearly ungovernable. The only way for Congress to function, to actually pass a budget, is to build a coalition that includes most Republicans, some Democrats, and work with a similar coalition in the Senate. That often means spending more money. That’s not the Congress — and the party of big ideas — that Ryan once had imagined.

And President Donald J. Trump has made that process worse. He caters to the bloc in Congress that cares little about actually governing. Chaos is fine. Big ideas, not so much.

Ryan proposed a major reform of government in 2010 long before he was elected Speaker of the House. It had his big ideas: Replace Medicare with direct payments to seniors who then could buy their own health insurance; turn Medicaid into a block grant to states; end employer-based health insurance; and dramatically cut government and taxes. There was no support for that plan.

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Then two years ago, as a new speaker, Ryan unveiled another plan for reshaping government. “A Better Way” included a reform of the Indian Health Service by “giving choices to American Indians.” His big idea was to have the government issue vouchers for Indian health, outside the system. “Not only will this give American Indians more choice in where they receive care,” the Ryan plan promised. “It will challenge Indian health facilities to provide the best care possible to American Indians.”

And of course that voucher system would have cost less. The Ryan plan also included a provision for a Native American Health Savings Account so individual tribal members could buy their own health care services  (Never mind a treaty sanctioned right.)

The basic premise of Ryan’s plan was that poverty is a problem because of government programs, thus, shrink the government, and poverty will go away. He told National Public Radio: “Let’s break up the welfare monopoly, instead of having just the welfare agency at the county level give people their benefits, which they basically rubber-stamp. … They don’t actually treat the person. Let other providers also provide these full-scale wraparound benefits. Let the Catholic Church do it. Let Lutheran social services. Let America Works, a for-profit agency that’s good at this.”

This is not a new idea; it was the same logic in the 1940s when Republican complained then that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was responsible for poverty, horrible living conditions, and general mismanagement. The solution over the next decade was the idea of “freeing the Indians” by terminating the federal responsibility, Termination. And a hundred and nine tribes were terminated, representing some 12,500 tribal members, and the end result was poverty conditions that were far worse.

That’s likely what would have happened again had Ryan’s “choice” approach to Indian health became law.

Ryan’s, “A Better Way,” once again called for turning Medicaid over to the states. “Instead of shackling states with more mandates, our plan empowers states to design Medicaid programs that best meet their needs, which will help reduce costs and improve care for our most vulnerable citizens.”

Medicaid has become a significant revenue source for the Indian health system. Under current law, Medicaid is a partnership between the federal and state governments. But states get a 100 percent federal match for patients within the Indian health system. Four-in-ten Native Americans are eligible for Medicaid insurance.

Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma and a Chickasaw Nation citizen, said Ryan will be missed in Congress. “Paul Ryan is a visionary leader, a committed conservative and a master of the legislative process. His tenure as been marked by exceptional accomplishments – the largest tax cut and reform in a generation; the most regulatory reform for any Congress in the modern age; the most substantial defense buildup in 15 years; the end of the individual mandate in Obamacare – and a host of other important legislative accomplishments,” Cole said.

“He is not only the best Speaker I’ve had the opportunity to serve with, he’s also the finest person. Even Paul’s political opponents readily concede that he’s a person of absolute integrity, deep sincerity and of profound decency.”

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter: @TrahantReports (This story is cross posted with Indian Country Today.)

Trump complains. And signs the business-as-usual spending bill into law anyway

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President Donald J. Trump speaks about the $1.3 trillion Omnibus Spending Bill before signing into law. (Official White House photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Indian Health, Bureau of Indian Affairs see a budget increase

Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today

The federal government’s newly enacted budget is a massive “omnibus” act that spends $1.3 trillion and makes some members of Congress pleased and others angry. It’s a document that reflects a broken budget system. And, at the same time, it’s a business-as-usual document in a presidential administration that has promised structural change.

“There are a lot of things I’m unhappy about,” President Donald J. Trump told reporters at the White House Diplomatic Reception room. “But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. Nobody read it, it’s only hours old.”

But the negotiations were not hours old. The back and forth between Democratic and Republican lawmakers was essentially a year late. This spending bill only funds the federal government between now and the end of September. But the process took so long because neither side had enough votes to pass the document on their own; Republicans needed votes from Democrats and to get those votes there had to be deals. Lots of deals. Business as usual.

And business as usual is good for Indian Country. Federal Indian programs, some of which had been slated for either elimination or deep cuts, continued on course.

The omnibus spending bill increases funding for the Indian Health Service by 10 percent, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education by 7 percent to $3.064 billion. The IHS budget line s $5.5 billion. When the budget is compared to the president’s request, the increases are even sharper, more than 16 percent for the IHS and 23 percent for the BIA.

At the BIA, according to an analysis by Amber Ebarb at the National Congress of American Indians, “Overall, the eliminations and reductions proposed in the president’s budget were rejected.”

Other budget items:

  • The bill includes a 3 percent set aside for Indian tribes within the funds available under the Victims of Crimes Act. The cap for these funds was set at $4.4 billion, which amounts to $133 million. As Ebarb wrote: “This is an important step forward for Indian Country, which has the highest rate of criminal victimization and had up until this point been left out of this funding. This funding will address the long standing inequity and meaningfully improve the landscape of victim services in Indian Country.”
  • The bill provides $50 million for grants to Indian tribes or tribal organizations to address the epidemic, and $5 million for tribes in the Medication-Assisted Treatment for Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction program.
  • Infrastructure spending would increase for BIA and IHS construction, BIA road maintenance, and a $100 million competitive grant program is added under Native American Housing Block Grants in addition to the $655 million provided for the NAHBG formula grants.

 

President Trump said he signed the bill into law because it increased military spending. “I looked very seriously at the veto. But because of the incredible gains that we’ve been able to make for the military, that overrode any of our thinking.”

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter: @TrahantReports (Cross-posted on TrahantReports)

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Congress passes a budget. President warns of a veto (and more chaos)

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Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today

Congress did its job: The federal government’s budget is done. The last step was President Donald J. Trump’s signature and so now the government marches on. At least for the rest of this year, until the end of September.
But the White House said Friday that the president may veto the budget because there is not enough funding for a border wall or a solution for the so-called Dreamers. This is after the president assured House and Senate leaders that he would sign the measure into law.

 

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A veto would mean the federal government would shut down at midnight and Congress would have to start a new round of budget negotiations. This will be even more complicated because many lawmakers have left Washington for a two-week recess.
There will be intense pressure from some Republicans for the president to sign this budget into law anyway.

Budgets are a guide to priorities: What programs are more important? Where is the support from Congress and from the people? Did the president get what he wanted?
That last question is the easy one. The money for the budget wall was minimal, at best.
It’s fair to say the administration’s budget was soundly rejected by a Republican Congress. Sure, Democrats contributed a great deal to this budget (and Democrat votes were required to make it so,) but even before that occurred, majority-party lawmakers were dismissing the harsh budget program changes sought by the president.
The president’s team had all kinds of ideas: Deep spending cuts, the elimination of public broadcasting, replace Medicaid with block grants, and, yes, even deeper spending cuts. Yet Congress enacted a budget that increased federal spending both for the military and domestic programs. It’s Congress, not the president, writing the checks.
How bad was the president’s budget? The National Congress of American Indians put it this way in recent testimony: “The president’s budget would cut the Bureau of Indian Affairs by about half a billion dollars, or 15 percent. BIA Social Services would be reduced by more than a third, Indian Child Welfare by more than a quarter, and critical human services programs, law enforcement and courts programs, environmental protection, housing, and education programs would face unconscionable reductions. Infrastructure programs, such as the Indian Community Development Block Grant would be eliminated, and the Indian Housing Block Grant and road maintenance would be reduced.”
Instead, Congress added dollars and protected programs that the White House sought to eliminate.
“This bill represents real progress for Indian Country, significantly increasing our investments in Native health care, infrastructure, economies, and communities. It rejects the president’s dangerous proposed budget cuts and instead provides funding increases that will lead to healthier communities and better outcomes across Indian Country,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, in a news release. Udall is vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.
The omnibus spending bill would have increased funding for the Indian Health Service by 10 percent, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education by 7 percent to $3.064 billion. The IHS budget line is $5.5 billion.
Conservatives were not happy with the additional spending in the omnibus bill. “Republicans control the government, yet Congress still follows the Democrats’ playbook,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky said. “Time and again, spending skyrockets, and conservatives are expected to fall in line to praise the party for making the big-spending status quo worse.”
However Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, a member of the House’s leadership team praised the legislation. “Despite divisions, both sides of the aisle have the responsibility to deliver this legislation for the American people so that the federal government runs efficiently and effectively,” Cole said. “Neither side got everything it wanted, but the end product reflects a broadly supported compromise. A majority of Republicans and Democrats voted for this bill. President Trump urged its passage and has promised to sign this legislation. As we begin to consider funding for Fiscal Year 2019, it is imperative that Congress remain committed to the return to regular order in the appropriations process.”
The president will decide in the next few hours whether or not he got enough of what he wanted.
(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports (Crossposted on Trahant Reports.)

Congress set to vote on $1.3 trillion spending bill; Friday deadline

Mark Trahant

Cross-posted on Indian Country Today.

UPDATE: The House of Representatives passed the $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill. Thursday.  The vote was 256-167. Next up: The Senate will vote on the measure.

Congressional leaders have agreed to a massive $1.3 trillion spending bill to fund the government for the remainder of this fiscal year. The House and Senate must still vote on the measure. The text of the 2,232 page bill was released Wednesday at 8 p.m.

The spending bill, which followed an overall agreement last month, increases spending for most domestic programs, including more than $3 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and $5.5 billion for the Indian Health Service. Other line items include increased funding for tribes for the research and implementation of the Violence Against Women Act and renewed funding for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the legislation also “fulfills our pledge to rebuild the nation’s military. We are delivering the biggest increase in defense funding in 15 years.”

That includes a pay raise of 2.4 percent for military personnel — and an increase of 1.9 percent for most federal civilian employees.

The legislation would significantly boost funding for programs that deal with the opioid epidemic. “With nearly $4 billion, the funding bill makes the largest federal investment to date for fighting the opioid epidemic, which the president has declared a national emergency,” Ryan reported on his House web page. “It includes funding for treatment, prevention, and law enforcement programs that help save lives and stem the spread of this scourge.”

The spending bill includes  $1.57 billion for President Donald J. Trump’s border wall as well as an increase for  immigration enforcement, including additional law enforcement.

The House could vote on the measure as soon as Thursday (waiving a requirement for members to get at least three days to review the language of the legislation).

The Senate vote could come Friday, however, one senator could slow the process down because of rules that require unanimous consent. This would result in another, short government shutdown at least over the weekend. Sen. Paul Rand, R-Kentucky, did just that last month.

He has not said what action he will take on this spending bill, but he tweeted this morning: “It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni…wait, what?”

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

#NativeVote18 Candidates are boosted by an electorate ready for change

 

Cross posted on Indian Country Today.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

A special election in Pennsylvania is a good sign for Native American #NativeVote18 candidates running for office. Why? Because this cycle is already favoring out-of-power Democrats and, quite possibly, independents. It’s hard to peg any constituent group more out-of-power than those who would represent Indian Country in the Congress of the United States.

First, the news from Pennsylvania, then we will look at the map. Democrats are claiming victory in a special election for that state’s 18th Congressional District. Perhaps. Officially, the race is too close to call between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone. It’s a practical tie with Lamb holding a tiny lead. But Lamb has claimed victory and Democrats are celebrating no matter what happens next because this is a district that favors Republicans, it was won by President Donald J. Trump by 20 points. So even normally red districts are up for grabs come November.

Or as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (New Mexico) posted Tuesday night: ““These results should terrify Republicans. Despite their home field advantage and the millions of dollars … We have incredible candidates with deep records of service running deep into the map this year, and it’s clear that these Republican attacks are not going to stick.”

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Back to the map: Sharice Davids, who is running in Kansas fits that storyline precisely. She is running in a district that Republicans should win easy. Rep. Kevin Yoder won re-election in 2016 with an 11-point margin. But remember the Pennsylvania 18th favored Republicans by 20-points.

Davids is Ho-Chunk, an attorney, and she worked in the Obama administration. This is pretty much an anti-Trump-agenda resume’.

The most immediate boost from Tuesday’s vote should be more campaign donations.

Another #NativeVote18 candidate who could benefit from a re-imaging of the election landscape is Amanda Douglas in Oklahoma. After Lamb claimed victory in Pennsylvania she tweeted: “Yes! his is exactly what I’m talking about!!! I can’t wait to work with newly elected Congressman@ConorLambPA!”

Douglas, Cherokee, is running in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Two years ago Democrats did not field a candidate in that race. It’s rated as a “plus-17” Republican district — in other words, awful similar to the Pennsylvania 18th.

In another part of Oklahoma, two Cherokee Nation citizens could both potentially be on the fall ballot. Rep. Markwayne Mullin is running for his fourth term as as Republican. Democrat Jason Nichols, the mayor of Tahlequah, is running as a Democrat. Mullin won 70 percent of the vote in his last election bid.

Rep. Tom Cole is also running for re-election as a Republican in Oklahoma’s 4th congressional district. Cole, Chickasaw, also earned more than 70 percent of the vote in the last election.

One #NativeVote18 candidate who had a good week before the Pennsylvania election was running in New Mexico.

Debra Haaland, 2018 Elections

Haaland’s challenge is to win the Democratic primary in June because, unlike most Native candidates, she’s running in a district that favors Democrats.

Last weekend Haaland was the top-vote getter at the state’s party convention, winning nearly 35 percent of the vote in a crowded field. She told delegates: “Congress has never heard a voice like mine.”

Haaland, is Laguna Pueblo. Congress has never elected any Native American woman to its ranks since voting began in 1789.

Haaland, Davids, or Douglas could be the first.

The Pennsylvania race also raises questions for the #NativeVote18 candidates who are Republicans. Former Washington State Sen. Dino Rossi would be at the top of that list. Rossi, Tlingit, is hoping to succeed a moderate Republican, Rep. Dave Reichert, in Washington’s 8th congressional district. That district has been trending Democratic.

The president’s popularity is reflected by Rossi’s own words. He told The Seattle Times that he is “not running to be ‘The Apprentice.’ I am running to be the congressman from the 8th Congressional District. The way I am going to treat Donald Trump is just the same way I would have treated George W. Bush or Barack Obama. If I agree with them I agree with them, and if I don’t, I don’t.”

One #NativeVote18 candidate who is not running away from President Trump is Gavin Clarkson in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District. His campaign website proclaimed “the best way to help President Trump stop the swamp and protect New Mexico is to run for the Republican nomination to make sure we retain this Congressional seat in November.”

Then this Southern New Mexico district is changing too. The seat is now held by Rep. Steve Pearce is running for governor — making this an open seat. Pearce won easily, capturing 60 percent of the vote. But the district is now 54 percent Hispanic and in a wave election, it could be the ideal seat for a Democratic pickup. Trump won the district by 10 points, half of the margin in Pennsylvania.

There are also three #NativeVote18 candidates running as independents or on third-party lines. Eve Reyes Aguirre is running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona on the Green Party ticket. Aguirre is an Izkaloteka Mexican Native.

She recently tweeted that she is an “unconventional politician” and is rounding up signatures to make the ballot. Henry John Bear is running as a Green Party candidate in Maine’s 8th Congressional District. Bear is a citizen of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. And, finally, in Minnesota, Ray “Skip” Sandman is running in the 8th Congressional District as an independent. Sandman is Ojibwe.

Can an independent or third party candidate win in this environment? It’s hard to say, there is no real evidence yet. But as the Pennsylvania results show, this is an election cycle where anything is possible.

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

Amanda Douglas ‘bothers’ to run for Congress in Oklahoma #NativeVote18

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Amanda Douglas is running for Congress in Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district. She is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. (Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Across the country more women than ever are running for office, including Congress, statewide posts, and legislatures. That’s the case in Indian Country, too. So is it a record year? It sure looks to be so.

Amanda Douglas is the latest candidate. “Northeastern Oklahoma is so skewed that not a single non-Republican candidate has officially registered to run for the 1st District in the coming 2018 election,” she wrote on her campaign web site. “Most agree that this is because it is historically a heavily Republican district– it hasn’t seen non-Republican representation since 1987. The thought is that there isn’t enough support for anyone other than a Republican to even bother running.”

Douglas is bothering to run. (This gets to my favorite rule in politics: You gotta run to win.) Two years ago no Democrat bothered to run and the incumbent, Rep. Jim Bridenstine picked up 100 percent of the vote. Not bad, right? He is not running for re-election because he is President Donald J. Trump’s choice to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). That means the district will be an open seat.

Douglas and her family are citizens of the Cherokee Nation from Glenpool, Oklahoma, and she’s a graduate of Oklahoma State University.

“Yes, I know,” she writes. “I am not exactly drowning in political experience; however, I want you all to know that I consider that an advantage over other candidates at this point. We need fresh air in Washington. We need representation in Congress that is NOT part of the club– someone who is there for the good of the PEOPLE, not for financial gains or exploitable opportunities.”

There are now three Native American women running for the U.S. House. Deb Haaland in New Mexico, Sharice Davids in Kansas, and Douglas in Oklahoma. All are Democrats. In Arizona, Eve Reyes Aguirre is a candidate for the U.S. Senate running on the Green Party line. There are two Native American women running for state governors, Paulette Jordan in Idaho, and Andria Tupola Hawaii. And Peggy Flanagan is running for Lt. Gov. Minnesota. There are also six Native American running for Congress. 

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

 

 

 

Trump budget is a ‘messaging document’

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National Economic Council discusses White House infrastructure plan. (White House photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Budgets are statements: This is what “we” care about.  It’s money that reveals priorities. The “we” could be, and ought to be, the country. Or the “we” could be a presidential administration that’s not really equipped to govern. So there will be lots of stories this year, like last year, about the Trump’s administration’s desire to cut federal Indian programs, wipe out public broadcasting, end student loan forgiveness, wreck Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps, housing programs, and generally just about every federal program that serves poor people.

As Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters: “This is a messaging document.”

And what a message: Rich people face tough times so they deserved a huge tax cut. Poor people are poor because of their own failures. And more money is needed for a wall that’s not needed, for the largest military in the world, and the Republicans no longer believe that deficits matter.

But Mulvaney has a different version. Here is what he says are the messages.

“Number one, you don’t have to spend all of this money, Congress.  But if you do, here is how we would prefer to see you spend it,” he said. “And the other message is that we do not have to have trillion-dollar deficits forever.”

Ok. So the action is in Congress. Even Republicans on Capitol Hill know that this budget cannot be. It’s chaos as numbers.

Perhaps the best line of nonsense was written a line written by the budget director to House Speaker Paul Ryan saying domestic spending at the levels Congress has already approved would add too much to the federal deficit. That’s funny.

For this budget to become law (and overwrite the current spending bill) the House and Senate would have to agree to a budget. That’s unlikely. As I have written before there are lots of votes against any budget but not enough votes to pass any budget. A budget resolution would allow the Senate to move forward with a spending plan with only Republican votes (and even then only one to spare). But unless the rules change (which President Trump wants) the Senate needs 60 votes for regular appropriations bills. That means a lot of compromise before federal spending.

The most popular part of the president’s budget is infrastructure spending. But most of his plan would be funding from state, local, and tribal governments. That’s a problem. Congress will not be eager to follow this approach, especially in an election year. Members of Congress love announcing new roads and other projects. It means jobs back home.

It’s telling that in the White House statement on infrastructure tribes are not mentioned (something that was routinely done in the Obama White House).

Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, wrote: “Our infrastructure is broken. The average driver spends 42 hours per year sitting in traffic, missing valuable time with family and wasting 3.1 billion gallons of fuel annually. Nearly 40 percent of our bridges predate the first moon landing. And last year, 240,000 water main breaks wasted more than 2 trillion gallons of purified drinking water—enough to supply Belgium.”

So the Trump administration’s answer is to fund this with local government dollars because, as Cohn puts it, “the federal government politically allocated funds for projects, leading to waste, mismanagement, and misplaced priorities. The answer to our nation’s infrastructure needs is not more projects selected by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C Instead, the President’s plan designates half of its $200 billion for matching funds to stimulate State, local, and private investment.”

Another thing for a broken Congress to fix. If the votes are there. In theory that should be easy. This is an area where Republicans and Democrats agree (actually anyone who looks at the crumbling state of infrastructure can figure this one out). But in this Congress? We shall see.

At the State of the Indian Nations Monday, National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel said: “Native peoples are also builders and managers of roads and bridges, and other essential infrastructure. These projects are often in rural areas. They connect tribal and surrounding communities with each other, and the rest of the Nation. Tribal infrastructure is American infrastructure. In 2018, NO infrastructure bill should pass, UNLESS it includes Indian Country’s priorities.”

Back to the budget as a messaging document. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says this budget “violates the spirit of the bipartisan agreement that congressional leaders negotiated just a few days ago.”  That’s going to make it much more difficult to come up with the next agreement in Congress (unless the law is ironclad, stripping the administration of some of its governing authority).

The budget assumes that Congress would repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a block grant formula. The votes are not there for that. It’s fantasy.

The current bipartisan agreement “calls for adding $2.9 billion per year over the next two years to the discretionary Child Care and Development Block Grant, boosting this key federal program to help make child care affordable for low- and modest-income parents.  But the budget reneges on that and proposes essentially flat funding for the program. The Administration’s blatant dismissal of a major bipartisan agreement on which the ink is barely dry may make bipartisan agreements harder to reach in the future,” the budget center reports. “And then, in years after 2019, the budget calls for cuts of unprecedented depth in non-defense discretionary programs even though that’s the part of the budget that contains many federal investments in long-term economic growth.  By 2028, funding for non-defense discretionary programs would fall 42 percent below the 2017 level, after adjusting for inflation.  Indeed, by 2028, total NDD spending, measured as a share of gross domestic product, would be at its lowest level since Herbert Hoover was president.”

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Where federal money is spent. Source: Congressional Budget Office.

To me that’s the key point. Domestic spending, the programs that serve Indian Country, are already dropping and have been for a long time. All domestic discretionary programs add up to about 4.6 percent of the budget — and federal spending on Indian Country is a tiny fraction of that.

And, as the budget center points out, that means Trump budgets would actually “go below the 2019 sequestration levels, which Congress just agreed is too low to meet national needs.”

The messaging document (the budget, remember?) has another problem. It’s based on assumptions that are even more of a fantasy than repealing the Affordable Care Act. The budget assumes a 3 percent growth rate this year and 4 percent next year. So lots more people earning more and paying more income taxes (since corporations will be paying less). Not. Going. To. Happen.

Even economists think this is nonsense. The crackdown on immigration, for example, is shrinking the economy, not growing it. And the Congressional Budget Office projects a long term growth rate of just under 2 percent. Last year the economy grew at 2.6 percent, below what Trump said would happen and even below the consensus of economists.

This 2019 budget will accomplish one thing: It will serve as a mile post for the fall election. Republicans can make the case for defense spending and, I suppose, that they used to be against deficits. And Democrats will make the case for protecting health care and other domestic priorities.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The money chase. #NativeVote18 federal candidates make their pitch for big bucks

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U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, a member of The Chickasaw Nation, raised more than $869,000 last year. #NativeVote18 (Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

It’s time to look at the money. How much money are #NativeVote18 candidates raising?

Yes, I know, this is a silly metric. After all there is no relationship to governing and calling up people you don’t know and asking them for money. Yet this is the system in place. A candidate is more likely to be successful if she or he can raise a lot of money.

So it’s no surprise that the big money collectors — even in Indian Country — are the ones who already hold office or who have held office recently. And it’s probably no surprise that the big money is headed down Republican alley.

The top money raiser is Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma. The latest Federal Election Commission reports were posted at the end of January and reflect fundraising for 2017. His net: $1.7 million, cash on hand.

Several tribes donated the maximum amount to Cole’s campaign. Oklahoma tribes, such as his own, the Chickasaw, and the Cherokee Nation, backed Cole as well as tribes from across the country ranging from Penobscot to Stillaguamish.

Some of the contributors have different agendas. Tribes, for example, support Cole because of his strong stands on tribal sovereignty. Yet the American Dental Association, another contributor, has worked against that very issue by challenging the tribes right to regulate mid-level dental practices. (Previous: Tribal sovereignty and the call for better oral health.)

Washington congressional candidate Dino Rossi comes in second for fundraising last year, netting a little more than a million dollars. This is remarkable when you consider he was not even a candidate until September. Rossi is Tlingit and Italian.

As I wrote in September:  “One of his first jobs was working for Bernie Whitebear at Seattle’s United Indians of All Tribes. It’s interesting how some candidates make their tribal affiliation prominent and weigh in on issues that impact Indian Country. That would not be Rossi. But he doesn’t shy away (as many politicians do) from the conversation. It’s just not his focus.”

His campaign finance report bears that out. You won’t find a lot of tribal money.

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Debra Haaland, who is running for Congress in New Mexico, raised more than $386,000 in her bid. If elected, she would be the first Native woman ever elected to the House. (Campaign photo)

The top Democrat for fundraising this cycle is Debra Haaland running in Albuquerque. She ended the year just shy of $200,000 in cash. Haaland, of course, and I can’t write it often enough, would be the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress. She’s running in a district that favors Democrats but she must win the primary first against seven other candidates. So far Sedillo Lopez, a former associate dean at the University of New Mexico Law School, has raised some $456,000 and reports $348,000 in cash on hand. Haaland has raised a total of $386,000 in contributions.

There is a huge difference between Haaland’s fundraising and Cole’s money. Most of her contributions come in $10 and $25 chunks. Small money. But that’s important because it could reflect interest by real voters instead of tribes and Political Action Committees and business interests. She does get some money from tribes, including her own, Laguna Pueblo, but not nearly as much as is found in Cole’s treasury.

The race for Oklahoma’s second congressional district could become the first election between two tribal members, the incumbent, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, and his challenger Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols. Both men are Cherokee.

But so far on the money side it’s not much of a contest. Mullin raised about $725,000 last year, netting $434,333.37. Nichols raised $17,575.52 and ended with $8,287.30 cash on hand.

The trick in any campaign is to raise as much money as needed to be competitive. That doesn’t always mean first. But it does mean having the resources to compete in media advertising, including social media, hiring staff, and organizing.

Several #NativeVote18 candidates showed no fundraising in the FEC reports. It could be because there fundraising is scant, or ramping up later, or because reports have not been filed yet.

#NativeVote18 spreadsheet of federal candidates with links to FEC reports.

Next up: State candidate fundraising totals.

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

 

 

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