U.S. Congressman Tom Cole (Chickasaw Nation)

Elections 2012: A Better Bureau of Indian Affairs Budget From Republicans

Mark Trahant
9/5/12

An omission: Yesterday I reported that Rep. Tom Cole was much less visible at the Republican Convention in Tampa than he was in St. Paul four years ago. I should have added the primary reason: He was chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee at the time.

“My lower profile at this year's GOP Convention really didn't have anything to do with Indian issues,” Cole said in an e-mail.

He said he was, however, active on Indian issues at the convention including hosting a round table discussion for the Romney campaign. “We had a great turn out,” he said. “Governor Romney also met with tribal leaders in Boston the week before the convention.”

Cole also wanted to make it clear that under the Ryan budget, “House Republicans actually appropriated more for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 than the Obama Administration requested.”

This is accurate – and complicated. As I wrote in another post, “Republicans in the House have done a good job of protecting both the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the BIA from drastic cuts.” This will be an important thought to hold onto if Republicans win enough support to shrink federal spending to 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. And, it’s complicated, because more federal dollars are going through to tribal clinics through other sources such as Medicaid or community health centers.

This is a good example of the strategic choice that tribal governments will have to make depending on which candidate wins in November. If it’s Romney, the best bet might be to support BIA and IHS programs over alternative funding sources. While if the president wins re-election there might be more funding programs in other areas of the government. (This has always been an interesting question, or debate, for some tribal leaders because many believe the BIA and IHS best represent the government’s implementation of treaty obligations while others say all government programs are an extension of the treaty.)

But Cole’s final point is an important one. So I’ll let him have the last word.

“To be fair, both parties have worked together in recent years to do more for Indian country. Of course, we have a very long way to go to provide Native Americans with the same benefits and opportunities enjoyed by other Americans,” Cole said. “As I have in the past, I will continue to work with Members of both parties to advance the interests of Indian country no matter who wins the election in November.”

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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