Spending bill at least better than the sequester

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Spending bill at least better than the sequester

By Alysa Landry
Special to the Times
Jan. 30, 2014

WASHINGTON—After three years of gridlock over federal funding, Congress on Jan. 13 passed a bipartisan spending bill that will fund the government through Sept. 30.

The bill means federal dollars are again flowing, but details have not been released about how the bill will affect tribes, said Brian Quint, government and legislative affairs associate for the Navajo Nation Washington Office.

“The Appropriations Committees had to rush to complete the bill, so there’s not as much detail,” he said. “We’re anticipating that the agencies will release more detail when they know more.”

The $1.012 trillion spending package comes with some unexpected benefits, from a 1-percent increase in pay for federal and military personnel to shorter wait times in airport security. Known as the omnibus bill, the package also calls for reversal of some of the devastating spending cuts caused by last year’s sequester.

Under the sequester, which made across-the-board cuts, tribes were affected disproportionately, Quint said. The sequester capped the budget at $967 billion, or $45 billion less than the new spending package allows.

“The outlook is optimistic compared to the sequester,’ Quint said of the spending package. “It’s not harsh, across-the-board cuts. It provides spending levels and gives divisions the opportunity to decide how to spend the money.”

“I think the most significant thing is this gets the train back on the track,” House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rodgers, R-Kentucky, told reporters. The bill passed first through the House with a 359-67 vote, and then through the Senate, with a vote of 72 in favor and 26 opposed.

President Barack Obama signed the giant, 1,582-page bill into law on Jan. 17, guaranteeing funding through the end of the fiscal year. The bill ends the threat of another government shutdown like the one in October last year that lasted 16 days.

“Across the board, our government is going to operating without, hopefully, too many glitches over the next year,” Obama said at the signing ceremony.

Bipartisan approval of the bill came just in time — Congress was racing against a tight deadline set in place last fall when lawmakers failed to agree on a budget and instead passed a stopgap measure funding the government though Jan. 18.

The bill calls for increased funding for the Social Security Administration, Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health. However, budget cuts will continue for the Departments of Education, Labor, Housing and Urban Development and the Transportation Security Administration.

The Pentagon will avoid a $20 billion cut, but the new budget freezes salaries for top government officials, including that of the vice president.

The Navajo Nation Washington Office plans to continue advocating for a budget that prioritizes tribes. Obama is expected to release his fiscal year 2015 budget soon.

“One thing we’re all talking about is holding Indian Country harmless when it comes to budget cuts,” Quint said. “Indian Country programs started at a level that was underfunded, so we’re trying to raise awareness that Indian Country — and the Navajo Nation, specifically — can’t afford these cuts because the impact is disproportionate.”