Democrats Stoke Unnecessary Fear Over Ryan Budget and Indian Country

Rep. Tom Cole

In their recent letter to Indian Country Today Media Network, Congressmen Ed Markey and Ben Ray Lujan expressed concern that chronically underfunded tribal programs are in jeopardy of damaging further spending reductions. I share these concerns and appreciate their efforts to highlight the unique challenges with which Indian country struggles.

However, the fears stoked by the House Natural Resources Committee Minority regarding the effects of the Ryan budget simply do not match the reality of the funding actually allocated by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior and Environment on which I serve. The House majority has already been operating under the Ryan budget for two fiscal years, and in each of those years the funds appropriated for Indian country have surpassed both the dollars authorized under the budget framework and the amount requested by President Obama. House-passed appropriations for Indian programs including BIA and IHS have also been higher than final levels negotiated with the Democratically controlled Senate.

The committee report cited by the ranking members claims that BIA’s budget would be cut by $375 million and the IHS budget would be cut by $637 million. Fortunately, action in the House of Representatives speaks louder than the words found in the committee report. And action the past two fiscal years has been good for Indian country. In FY12, House-passed BIA funding surpassed the president’s request by more than $18.9 million. For IHS, the House-passed legislation included $392.4 million more than FY 11, which was the single highest percentage of any program in the Interior Appropriations bill, and $595 million more than the final funding agreed to by the Senate. For FY 13, BIA funding in the bill reported out of the House Appropriations Committee included $36.8 million more than FY 12, which was also $41.4 million more than president’s request. IHS fared equally well, with $183.4 million more than FY 12, which was $70.6 million more than the funding requested by President Obama.

Awareness is key. I’ve accompanied numerous congressional delegations to Native American reservations and seen the eye-opening effects such educational opportunities can have. Members with little prior knowledge of tribal issues come away with a sober and lasting appreciation for the challenges in Indian country, as well as the proven effectiveness and unrealized potential of support programs.

In addition to raising awareness and working to protect critical funding, there are structural changes we can make on a bipartisan basis. Earlier this year, I introduced legislation, H.R. 2362, that would have facilitated foreign investment on tribal lands with not only Turkey but any WTO nation. Unfortunately, the commonsense policy was brought down due in no small part to efforts by my Democratic colleagues to connect the legislation to the centuries old conflicts between Turks, Armenians and Greeks. My legislation had nothing to do with those disagreements and was simply aimed at drawing investments onto tribal lands, but some chose to make a political point rather than help Indian country. While it is critical that Congress appropriate money for tribal programs to help those in need and to meet our trust responsibilities to provide basic services, we could help tribes prosper if members who care about Indian Country will overcome partisan differences to enact policies breaking down barriers to development on tribal lands.

The United States’ treaty obligations are not partisan. Honoring our commitments to tribal citizens is not partisan. The work we do in the Appropriations Committee to fund essential tribal programs is not partisan. With a $16 trillion debt and persistently high unemployment, there are certainly no guarantees. Every program is subject to evaluation as we work to avoid fiscal catastrophe. However, the recent track record of the Appropriations Committee is encouraging. The reality is that in the 112th Congress, the House has funded critical programs for Indians while making cuts to other budget items, and we have done so in a bipartisan manner.

While Democrats and Republicans may not agree on the total amount the federal government should spend, there is agreement that we cannot balance any budget on the backs of the first Americans who statistically are the last Americans.

Thomas Jeffery Cole is the U.S. Representative for Oklahoma's 4th congressional district, serving since 2003.

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andre's picture
Ever notice how none of the people in congress who come here to make remarks look like you, live where you do, or why you never see them on the reservation or at IHS receiving care or services? I really don't care for either popular candidate this year. I could say historically that the Democratic Party has delivered more goods, funding and services to Indian Country. Fact is today, Congress has appropriated over $642 billion for defense in 2013 spending. Contrast that with the BIA budget of a mere $2.6 billion for all the federally recognized tribes. This is a problem for me. The next time your driving down a poorly maintain BIA road and it feels like your shocks are ruined or the a-arm just break leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere, this is an issue. The next time you think about all the families you know who are out of work, living in a single-wide trailer, hauling around water in truck with a 400 gallon container, the next time you have to visit an out-house or wait hours for police services. The next time someone tells you that nothing ever changes because your driving into a border town to do all your shopping. Remember our Congress who appropriates all money and budgets. Mr Cole can say that treaties are a trust obligation, but every year during appropriation time, it's become a ritual for all tribes to go to Washington and beg for funding necessities. At most they get the crumbs.
rezzdog's picture
I believe this guy gets it.
tmsyr11's picture
- T he Navajo Nation has returned about $63.1 million in federal funding to the federal government since 2008. - navajo nation fails to recover millions of dollars to developer, Hak Ghun. - navajo nation and the national HeadStart Fiasco (loss of federal programs and grants) - navajo nation and the non-profit Boys and Girls CLub (loss of services) THis is just the Navajo Nation of Indians, how about other Indian Tribes and Governments around the country? There are many opportunties and grants available, but can some of these Indian Tribes obtain or even maintain federal opportunities, state grants, private donations by fulfilling the standards and requirements to FREE MONEY? So your accusations are NOT ENTIRELY accurate, therefore, Indian Government share part of the BLAME for loss of services to tribal people.
curtj's picture
The democrats are the lesser of 2 evils compard to the republicans. The republicans don't make any bones that they are bribed to financially and legally benefit their bribers(oil, energy and mining congloemrates, ranchers, cronies), the democrats whine and wring their hands but in the end some are as crooked as the Republicans. the question is why in this modern age, don't your leaders question the states and feds.. What gives them the legal authority to go on Tribal lands and say they own it? Why do your leaders allow them to do that? Not educated to the policies of colonialism? As corrupt as the ones bribing them to profit off stolen Tribal resources with the profits going to the leaders and their families and not to the Tribe? It's sickening in this day and age, we have corrupt leaders who care for their pocketbooks more than they care for their people, enough to kick them off Tribal rolls in order to concentrate more profit into them, their families and their cronies pockets.