Consultation gets tribes billions less in Biden budget request for FY2023
White House sells a reduced Native budget with a couple of golden nuggets, calling them 'historic.'
WASHINGTON — The White House’s decision to conduct increased consultation with tribal leaders over the past year is resulting in Indian Country receiving approximately $12 to $14 billion less in requested funding than it did in last year’s budget request to the U.S. Congress from President Joe Biden.
Increased federal government consultation with tribes has reportedly reduced Biden’s budget request for Indian Country from $28.8 billion for fiscal year 2022 to less than $16 billion for fiscal year 2023, according to an initial analysis from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
The White House confirmed as much during a virtual call with tribal leaders held today on short notice at 1 p.m. ET, during which top federal officials reviewed many of the same numbers as the NCAI has already highlighted.
While the White House was expected to release an official crosscut of agency-by-agency federal funding for tribes during the briefing, it did not do so.
Instead, Candace Vahsling, an official with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), told tribal leaders on the call that a crosscut was not ready, despite the president’s overall budget being released yesterday by the White House.
Unless some major funding for Indian Country is found as that crosscut is completed, increased federal consultation with tribes appears to have resulted in tribes receiving $12 to $14 billion less than they did before OMB conducted consultations with tribes for the fiscal year 2023 budget over last year’s budget proposal, when consultation apparently did not occur.
Topher Spiro, another OMB official, said during the call that the decision for the White House to include funding for Indian Health Service (IHS) as mandatory in the budget was “historic.”
If enacted by Congress, that mandatory language would prevent the IHS budget from facing sequestration and the difficulties of continuing resolutions.
Libby Washburn and PaaWee Rivera — both Natives serving in the White House — also called the budget “historic” during the call, citing increased consultation in getting it done and the inclusion of mandatory IHS funding.
No one answered the question of how a budget that provides so much less money to tribes over last year’s proposed Biden budget could be considered “historic.” The White House in a fact sheet yesterday called it “historic” at least 8 times, never mentioning that the funding was dramatically less in it for Indian Country than its fiscal year 2022 request.
The implied answer during the call today was that because consultation occurred with tribes before the budget was released that that effort made it “historic,” as did the mandatory funding proposed for IHS.
Tribal officials have said for years that it is a no brainer that consultation should have been occurring with them before OMB releases Indian Country funding formulas, so when consultation did occur in a formal way under the Biden administration, that they have received less proposed money than before is likely going to bother some tribal leaders.
Still, Washburn and Rivera kept smiling and selling throughout the call, and they kept repeating that the budget was “historic,” as if on auto-pilot, and as if they know there is an election season coming up where the Native vote matters in many key states.
“If consultation gets us less money, maybe something is broken in the consultation process,” one NCAI-affiliated person said after the call. “It’s not a good look for President Biden in an election year. His people are botching this.”
Lynn Malerba, one of two tribal officials called on during the meeting by Rivera (who is often called on by the Biden White House during federal-tribal meetings), said the “historic” word was justified.
“You’ve used the word ‘historic’ many times today, but I have to say, when I looked at this budget, I know that you heard Indian Country,” said Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe. “And this really is historic, and I’m so pleased that the information that you took is now reflected in the budget.”
In response, Spiro chuckled and said he couldn’t add more to that.
“None more needs to be said,” added Rivera, with a grin.
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