Obama seeks funding for some tribal programs

By Alysa Landry
Special to the Times

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2013

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P resident Barack Obama is seeking increased funding for a handful of tribal programs, including the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, in the budget proposal he unveiled April 10.

The proposal calls for government funding at approximately $3.8 trillion. It also seeks to replace cuts made by the sequester with a more balanced approach, while still reducing the overall budget and working to grow the economy in the aftermath of the recent recession.

"After years of recession, our businesses have created over 6 million new jobs," Obama said in a six-page budget statement to Congress. "We buy more American cars than we have in five years and less foreign oil than we have in 20 years. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before."

Yet the middle class still is struggling, Obama said. His budget proposal calls for an increase in the minimum wage to $9 per hour. It also calls for increased taxes for the wealthy and cuts to some benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare.

"There are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not been rewarded," he said in his statement, which echoed many of the sentiments he shared in his inaugural speech in January. "It is our generation's task to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class. It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, or whom you love."

The president's proposed spending for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, would increase by 2.5 percent from this year.

The budget projects a deficit for the current year of $973 billion, and calls for a decrease in 2014 to $744 billion. That's two consecutive years with the deficit under $1 trillion – the first time it's been that low since 2008.

The Senate and the House of Representatives both are drafting budget plans, and hearings are under way as the executive and legislative branches forge spending agreements. Navajo President Ben Shelly is expected to testify April 25 in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

Obama's proposal calls for a 4 percent increase in spending over 2012 levels for the Department of the Interior, including $60 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. He is also requesting $2.6 billion for the Bureau of Indian Education, a $31.3 million increase from current levels.

Obama's request for the Indian Health Service calls for a budget of $4.4 billion, or a 3 percent increase above the 2012 fiscal year. That includes $85 million to be used for construction of health care facilities, some of which are on Navajo land.

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, in one of his last statements before leaving office, urged Congress to approve spending for tribes. The 2012 budget stands at the 2006 level, he said in an April 12 webcast released by the Interior Department.

"That's not sustainable for the future of the department to carry out its mission as the custodian of America's natural resources and history," said Salazar, who stepped down after four years.

The new secretary, Sally Jewell, was sworn in last week.

Obama's proposal asks for an increase of $119 million for the Strengthening Tribal Nations initiative. This funding would go to public safety, development of natural resources in Indian Country, advancing nation-to-nation relations, post-secondary education and economic development.

Although Obama's budget introduces cuts to some programs, like elimination of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund and the Housing Improvement Program, it also calls for massive funding for infrastructure.

He is proposing $50 billion in up-front spending to rebuild infrastructure, including a "Fix-it-First" program that "makes an immediate investment to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs."

The program includes work on 70,000 structurally deficient bridges and investments into new technology like high-speed rail systems and modernized pipelines and power grids.

"These investments will both lay the foundation for long-term economic growth and put workers back on the job now," Obama said.

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