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Will Indian Country Funding Increase Under Budget Deal?

The Rep. House and Dem. Senate have both passed a budget deal that alleviates sequestration, but still holds uncertainties for tribal funding.

After months of partisan combat, the Republican House and Democratic Senate have both passed a budget deal that alleviates sequestration, but still holds uncertainties for tribal funding.

The deal, struck by Senate and House budget committee chairs, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), was voted on affirmatively by the House on December 12 and by the Senate on December 18 with widespread bipartisan support.

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It is a macro-level deal that makes recommendations on topline discretionary spending levels for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, so the details of how Indian program funding will be affected have yet to be ironed out and released by congressional appropriators.

Indian country officials are currently widely reminding appropriators of the budget cuts tribes have faced as a result of sequestration, and tribes are encouraging a restoration of and increase in federal support.

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On the larger scale, the deal indicates there will likely not be an across-the-board reduction in discretionary spending sequestration in 2014 and 2015. That’s dependent on final appropriations committee decisions in the House and Senate, according to an analysis of the deal by Indian-focused law firm Hobbs Straus.

Of note for Indian funding, the analysis says that two agencies often mentioned as unlikely to be in a final omnibus bill due to vast differences between the House and Senate are funding for the Departments of the Interior and Health and Human Services. These agencies include the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS). The alternative is for these agencies to receive funding under a continuing resolution, “thus making it very difficult to get any increases,” the analysis states.

The macro agreement also does not include a change to the formula under the Budget Control Act for automatic cuts to mandatory spending under that 2011 law, so the sequestration of mandatory spending will continue, according to the analysis. This is problematic for some Indian country programs, including the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI), which is considered mandatory funding and is still subject to sequestration under a different section of the law. The program already received a two percent cut in 2013 to the wide chagrin of Indian-focused health officials nationwide.

IHS leadership has not yet said whether it believes there will be sequestration of SDPI funds under the new budget agreement, but agency leaders have told Indian-focused policy experts that they are reviewing the matter.

Tribes are also widely hoping that the final budget will include funding for contract support costs and that it will not enact a plan to limit such costs that has been unpopularly pushed by the White House this year. House legislators, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), have said they want that White House suggestion to be included in any final budget bill.