The House and Senate, currently in August Recess, will reconvene September 8 and will be faced with the urgent matter of providing funding for federal agencies for fiscal year (FY) 2016 which begins October 1, 2015. Under the current schedule, the Senate has 15 and the House only 10 legislative days before the beginning of the new fiscal year. While the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved many of the FY 2016 funding bills, only a handful have been approved by the full House and/or Senate. There appears no possibility of Congress approving any full-year FY 2016 appropriations bills at this point, and they will have to approve an FY 2016 Continuing Resolution (CR) – likely a short term bill of several months, with funding distributed on a pro-rata basis for the activities and under the conditions that existed in FY 2015 – in order to avoid a government shutdown come October 1, 2015.
On August 24, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees the attached list of requested “anomalies” – recommended funding levels and/or conditions for an FY 2016 CR which would be different than in FY 2015. None of the requested anomalies are tribal-specific, although they do address the wildland fire management account and the extension of the definition of “highly qualified teacher” pertaining to alternative routes to certification. We note that OMB describes the requested anomalies as being proposed for a short-term CR. Should Congress consider enacting a longer-term or year-long CR, the OMB anomalies request list might expand – for instance, given the Administration’s support for full funding for Indian Health Service (IHS) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Contract Support Costs and school replacement construction and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) Tribal Grant Support Costs, they might include – and tribes would likely advocate for – funding above the FY 2015 funding level for those accounts.
At this point there is no agreement on how to proceed. The President has issued a veto threat against appropriations bills – Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies included – based on the policy riders they contain and the overall insufficient funding levels they would provide. While the House and Senate Committee-approved Interior appropriations bills propose some important proposed increases for tribal programs, overall the bills are still at sequestration levels. (See our General Memoranda 15-048 and 15-049 of July 7, 2015). The Administration and congressional Democrats are advocating for Congress to craft a new budget agreement similar to that reached for FYs 2014 and 2015 which provided increased discretionary spending in exchange for reductions elsewhere in the budget and avoided a sequestration of funds. As of this writing, little, if any, progress has been made toward reaching a new budget agreement.
Proposed Tribal-Specific Exemptions from Sequestration. Also of note, House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs Chairman Young (R-AK), Ranking Member Ruiz (D-CA) and Representative McCollum (D-MN) introduced as HR 3063 on July 14, 2015, a bill which would exempt from sequestration the: BIA, BIE, IHS, as well as the Administration for Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill would also exempt from sequestration certain tribal programs at the Departments of Education, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development. A narrower bill was introduced as S 1497 on June 3, 2015, by Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Vice Chairman Tester (D-MT) and Senator Udall (D-NM) which would exempt from sequestration the: BIA, BIE, and IHS, as well as certain tribal programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. To date, no action has been taken on either bill. If there is a grand budget agreement, efforts would be made to include something akin to them in it.
The FY 2016 budget situation is fluid, and we will continue to follow these important developments.