United States: American Indian Law And Policy: 10 Things You Need To Know—January 2018

January 2018 marked the beginning of year two of the Trump Presidency and the second session of the 115th Congress. Congress came back into session on January 3 after recessing for the December holidays. With the passage of tax reform at the end of December, Congress started the year needing to come to an agreement on funding the government through September 2018. The current funding expired on January 19, which led to a three day government shutdown that was resolved by extending the continuing resolution through February 8.

The tense negotiations during the government shutdown, along with the approach of the midterm elections in November 2018, may complicate major legislative priorities such as infrastructure and reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Although President Trump has not formally released his infrastructure plan, a publically available version of the document suggests a strong focus on private and local infrastructure investment through grants, as well as incentives to bolster investment in rural areas. The formal plan from the administration is expected to be released in the next several weeks.

The administration has also remained focused on streamlining federal agencies and Secretary Zinke has announced his plans for reorganizing the Department of the Interior. The current plan, not yet final, does not appear to implicate the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Indian Education, but would impact several other bureaus relevant to tribes such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation. The plan also proposes decentralizing some of the Department's decision making responsibilities from headquarters in Washington, D.C. to centralized locations in the west.

In addition to these issues, key political vacancies remain, including the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior and the Director of the Indian Health Service. As for Congress, Senate Democratic Committee Memberships and Senate Republican Committee Memberships were updated and released on January 9, 2018. A 2018 Congressional Calendar can be found here.

Below are highlights on key issues impacting Indian Country in Congress, the administration and the courts.

  1. Appropriations, the Government Shutdown and Another Continuing Resolution
  2. Tax Reform Enacted without Tribal Provisions
  3. Congress Expects a Busy Schedule in 2018
  4. The Opioid Crisis in Indian Country
  5. Tribal Nations Begin to Focus on Reauthorization of the Farm Bill
  6. Indian Child Welfare Act Challenges Continue
  7. Water Related Issues in the Courts and in Congress
  8. Secretary Zinke Announces Plans to Reorganize Interior Department
  9. 2017 Year in Review: Federal Indian Law Litigation
  10. U.S. Supreme Court Update

Appropriations, the Government Shutdown and Another Continuing Resolution

The majority of Congress' time this month has been focused on appropriations work. The federal government has been funded by a series of continuing resolutions since September of 2017. On January 19, the Senate failed to reach agreement on the length of the next extension and how to address immigration issues, resulting in a three day government shutdown.

On January 22, the Senate negotiated a deal that would keep the government funded through February 8, in exchange for a promise from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to consider legislation on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Based on these agreements, the Senate passed a continuing resolution by a vote of 8118, and the House of Representatives followed with a vote of 26-6150. President Trump signed the legislation into law the same day.

The continuing resolution also included a six year funding renewal for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Aside from current government funding, Congress must also reach an agreement on the budget caps for the remainder of fiscal year 2018 that ends September 30, which limits the amount of federal spending on defense and domestic programs. Any final spending bill will have to be within these spending limits or sequestration will be triggered, resulting in across the board cuts to spending, which would have a significant impact on programs that benefit tribal governments.

After fiscal year 2018 appropriations are resolved, the focus will quickly turn to fiscal year 2019 appropriations. In a normal budget cycle the President's proposed budget is due to Congress the first Monday of February, which would be February 5. Given the extension of the continuing resolution through February 8, it is anticipated that the President's 2019 budget will be released later in February. The fiscal year 2019 budget is expected to contain pay freezes for federal employees, along with budgetary requests to support federal agency reorganizations.

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