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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Omnibus: Budgets, a Native voice in Seattle, and eyes on Montana

Seattle City Council candidate Debora Juarez (campaign photo)
Seattle City Council candidate Debora Juarez (campaign photo)

** Updated, Oct. 30. **

Omnibus is a Latin word that means “for all.” In legislation it means cramming everything into a bill that you think can pass. That’s exactly what the House did with its two-year $80 billion spending bill. That bill lifts caps from the Budget Control Act, or the sequester, and it raises the debt limit until March 2017. The Senate passed the measure early Friday morning. This bill awaits President Obama’s signature to become law.

The best part of this bill is that ends distractions such as defunding Planned Parenthood until after the election. The worst part of this deal is that the spending details still have to be written. As What it does not do, however, is push actual government dollars out the door to pay for discretionary federal programs—including major health, education, and science initiatives—after December 11, when the temporary funding measure passed at the end of September expires. Under the terms of the deal, members of the House and Senate appropriations committees will have until that December deadline to choose exactly how to spend according with the broader framework.”

Yay.

The politics of this deal (and another House action) are stunning, but, unfortunately, probably only temporary. More Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans. So the Leadership picked a bipartisan course. That happened again with individual members who used a parliamentary measure to bring the Export-Import Bank up for a vote.

The Senate still has to weigh in on the Export-Import Bank and there is no indication when that debate will occur or if the votes are there to pass it. Folks who want to shrink government want this international financing program to go away, calling it corporate welfare. Supporters say that the competition is from other countries and failure to re-establish the bank will put U.S. interests at a disadvantage.

Of course any budget that passes with more Democrats than Republicans is considered awful. The new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the process stinks. But the bill will make it easier for Ryan to govern his caucus because it takes away the threat of government shutdowns and general chaos. Ryan’s goal will be to unite the Republicans so what ever measures come forward next will be debated within the party caucus and then sent to the floor with more unity. So Democratic votes will not be needed. At least that’s the theory. We will see if it works.

Critics of the spending bill (including those Republican candidates in Wednesday’s debate) say this shows how government spending is out of control. The problem with that argument is the numbers. The deficit is shrinking. What’s missing from the discourse is that the United States has a long-term spending problem. Not a budget crisis. The Congressional Budget Office says, “This year’s deficit will be noticeably smaller than what the agency projected in March, and fiscal year 2015 will mark the sixth consecutive year in which the deficit has declined as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) since it peaked in 2009. Over the next 10 years, however, the budget outlook remains much the same as CBO described earlier this year: If current laws generally remain unchanged, within a few years the deficit will begin to rise again relative to GDP, and by 2025, debt held by the public will be higher relative to the size of the economy than it is now.”

Congressional Budget Office snapshot of federal spending.
Congressional Budget Office snapshot of federal spending.

So the question remains can Congress, can the next president, can the public, think long term?

My goal for this blog is to make it a “for all” place for politics in Indian Country. To that end, I will be posting more press releases, op-eds, and other material from campaigns. I’d like to see a roundup of candidates across the country running in races large and small.

One important race that I have neglected to write about is from Seattle. Debora Juarez is a candidate for Seattle City Council. She’s a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, grew up in the Seattle-Tacoma area, and is running for a seat on neighborhood issues. That means things people care about: more sidewalks, better bus service, and affordable housing.

Juarez happens to be also extraordinary well qualified. This is what The Seattle Times said about her in its endorsement editorial: “In a crowded field, Debora Juarez stands out. She has lived in the district for 25 years while building an impressive résumé as a legal-aid lawyer, a King County judge, a Native American affairs adviser for two governors and a Wall Street investment adviser. She currently is counsel for Northwest tribes in a respected law firm and is a member of the Blackfeet tribe. She would bring intellectual rigor and ideological independence to the council.”

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Of course great candidates make all the difference in elections. They bring experience and poise to the campaign. That’s why so many eyes are watching Montana right now. The only Native American to hold a statewide office, Denise Juneau, is considering a run for the U.S. House. She’s currently Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction and a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa Tribes. She grew up in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Two years ago there was a lot of interest in Juneau running for an open U.S. Senate seat. I thought it would have been an interesting race, but it would have been a long shot. The problem is the type of voters Juneau would need only vote in presidential election years and that race would have been a low-turnout election. So she opted to stick with the job she loves, running public education.

But Juneau is now at her term limit. Her schools’ job will end. And since it’s a presidential year, the House seat is awfully tempting. It’s a  seat that can be won. (It’s how Jon Tester won.) Stay tuned.

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

Background for Arctic Council meeting in Anchorage on October 23

Screenshot 2015-10-17 13.37.07

Press conference at 9 am at National Park Service (pre-registration required.)

Summary of the Anchorage meeting, press information. More about the Arctic Council and the U.S. Chair. Last year’s AC annual report.

Indigenous issues

Almost four million people live in the Arctic and one estimate is that ten percent of that population is Indigenous. Greenland, the Canadian north including Nunavut, and the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs in Alaska are regions where indigenous people are the majority of the population.

As author John Warren noted in a report: “the rise of solidarity among indigenous peoples organizations in the region is surely a development to be reckoned with by all those interested in policy issues in the Arctic.”

Six national or international indigenous organizations are permanent participants of the Arctic Council.  For example: The Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska outlines seven priority areas, ranging from insuring food security to being included in the global conversation. Caribou as a bell-weather for Athabaskan communities and climate change via Arctic Athabaskan Council.

Subsistence and sustainability are common threads in many of the materials from indigenous people. Draft Arctic Council communication plan on supporting and promoting  traditional ways of life. UN Fact sheet on Arctic Indigenous issues. I am also interested in learning more about Indigenous knowledge and property rights. How will this body of law develop?

Alaska and the U.S. Corps of Engineers are exploring a deep water port, possibly in Nome. How will that impact Alaska Native communities, and, again are there new property rights involved?

Screenshot 2015-10-17 16.01.24

Climate change adaptation

There is a lot of material on climate change and mitigation, such as reducing greenhouse gases. But adaptation will be a growing discourse. I want to know more about what needs to happen to protect people and communities in the Arctic. The Atlantic on relocation of villages in Alaska because of erosion. Alaska seeks money to pay for relocation from The New York Times. This is exactly what I am interested in learning more about: How do we get additional money to pay for climate change adaptation, such as moving villages to building higher sea walls.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has been looking at the problem of adaptation since 2003 when it identified 200 villages threatened by climate change. GAO  in an 2009 update of that report said there has been limited progress and Congress would have to determine “the means and extent of federal assistance to relocating Alaska Native villages.”

This report isn’t about adaptation, but it’s a good look at climate change in the Arctic exploring  the challenges of black carbon.

NASA describes the Arctic as the planet’s early warning system. Most concerning: “In some cases, Arctic systems may be reaching “tipping points”—critical moments in time where a small change has large, potentially irreversible impacts.”

Governance

Brookings Institute links development in Arctic, both energy and tourism, with increased resources from Congress for a ice-breaking ships. From the essay: “The United States is considered an “Arctic Nation,” a term proudly used by policymakers to highlight our intrinsic national interests in the region and a profoundly basic yet important acknowledgement that Alaska and its associated territory above the Arctic Circle are indeed part of the United States. Unfortunately, the United States has yet to advance from this most basic construct of high latitude stakeholder to a proactive leadership and investment posture for the future.”

From Russia, an essay about international cooperation in the Arctic. This quote is particularly significant from Sergey Grinjaev: “Arctic regions takes on special significance, and teamwork on its study and assimilation will be strengthened even in the conditions of action of the Anti-Russian sanctions.”

Another area in governance is that of sovereignty and land claims. Russia recently claimed additional territory. I also wonder what legal claims Alaska Natives and other indigenous communities might have as the geography and shipping lanes change.

Congressional Research Service: Background paper on Arctic issues for members of Congress. “The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region,” CRS said. Paper explores a number of issues ranging from energy to climate change. Also explores U.S. Coast Guard declining assets; two of the three polar icebreakers, Polar Star and Polar Sea, have exceeded their service lives. CRS says the Arctic could be an “emerging” national security issue, particularly with Russia’s role in the region (a contrast to the quote from above. A conservative essay in The National Interest also said more military activity will be a part of the region’s future.