An Honorable Budget? No, But the Direction Is Right for Indian Country
President Obama’s next budget, due to be released soon, will be good news for Indian country.
The Washington Post describes the plan this way: “With the 2015 budget request, Obama will call for an end to the era of austerity that has dogged much of his presidency and to his efforts to find common ground with Republicans. Instead, the president will focus on pumping new cash into job training, early-childhood education and other programs aimed at bolstering the middle class, providing Democrats with a policy blueprint heading into the midterm elections.”
So does this mean austerity will end in Indian country? Unfortunately, no. But this budget is a new approach – and it will have many implications in Indian country.
Let me explain. It starts with this whole business of “austerity” or a government that shrinks itself and the economy.
The problem, essentially, in recent years is that Democrats have bought into the premise of austerity. There is this idea that a smaller government will somehow right the economy because the private sector will then create more jobs. Nonsense. There is far more evidence that when government invests in the economy there will be growth ahead.
The president’s budget adds an important twist to this debate by calling for sharp reductions in military spending. This will not be popular with Republicans (even though the U.S. spends $600 billion a year, more than the next 10 nations combined on defense.)
There should be little debate among tribal governments about austerity. There is not much of a private sector in tribal nations to pick up the slack. So any significant reduction in government, whether it be welfare payments or support for law enforcement programs, reduces the number of jobs at home.
Spending for programs that directly benefit American Indians and Alaska Natives – such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Indian Health Service – are from the portion of the budget that’s considered discretionary spending. Every dollar has to be appropriated by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president. There has to be a “deal” to spend the money.
And discretionary spending is shrinking. Last year it totaled about $1.2 trillion and is projected to drop by $7 billion, less than 1 percent, in 2014.
The budgets that are growing are “mandatory” spending, money that’s automatic, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The difference between the growing mandatory spending and the shrinking discretionary accounts are why it is so essential for American Indians and Alaska Natives to sign up under the Affordable Care Act. It moves funding for Indian health into the automatic spending category.
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