Debts to Be Paid? The House Republicans and Their 'Native American Effort'

Are House Republicans about to begin a Native American voter initiative?

Are House Republicans about to begin a Native American voter initiative?

The New York Times reports that Oregon’s Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, talked about the party’s outreach efforts.

Walden said it’s an important priority – and that Representatives Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin, both of Oklahoma, were “Native Americans and Republicans” and would be helping with “the Native American effort.”

The Native American effort? This should be good. If it really goes beyond a quick mention at a retreat. Then again, perhaps that effort will start with full funding for U.S. treaty obligations. Now that would be a Native American effort. (To be fair: There is GOP support for direct services, such as Indian health funding. But where it gets complicated is new revenue sources, such as Community Health Centers or Medicaid.)

Mark Trahant

Instead the real action, the stuff that will impact people living in Indian country, is far more technical. It’s the budget, the debt ceiling, and the prospect for a logical resolution.

Thursday House Republicans’ floated the idea of a short-term extension of the debt limit.

“We’re discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and White House involved in discussions in March,” Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.) said at a news conference from the retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia.

But what would that short-term extension look like? And would the House Republicans have enough votes from their caucus to pass it?

Ryan wouldn’t give details on what that bill would look like, but he said the retreat is designed to give House members enough information for them to come together. “The reason we’re doing this kind of facilitation right now is we want every member to understand all of the issues and all of the consequences, so that we can come together with consensus on a plan and move forward and proceed,” he said in The New York Times.

This is where the plan gets interesting. The maximum leverage for Republicans would be to push a debt limit extension to April or May because then it will put all the action squarely on budget cuts as part of a new spending law, or more likely, a Continuing Resolution, and the sequester. Both of those actions must occur in March. If the debt ceiling is off the table, well, it might be even more difficult to save funding for important programs – such as Indian health – from sequester. (Even with that Native American effort.)

But Republicans might not go there. Some conservatives want this fight. Now.

Erick Erickson, writing in the Red State blog, said House Republican leaders always want “the next fight.” But the winning path, he argues, is “to stop looking reasonable and start, metaphorically, shooting the hostages. If House Republicans lose in November of 2014, it won’t be because they fought the good fight. It’ll be because they left John Boehner as Speaker who decided to rely routinely on a bunch of Democrats to help him sell out so he wouldn’t have to fight.”

It will take a few days to know how unified the House Republicans come out of Williamsburg and which approach goes forward. There are many members who argue a short-term extension should never happen. And, if these members force budget cuts as part of the deal, that will give the President and the Senate reason enough to pass on the deal.

Then, of course, at the last second, there will be a whole new round of deal making.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at: https://www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity.