August 16, 2012
Baucus’ legal counsel hears concerns of Tribal Council, administration and department heads
By B.L. Azure
Richard Litsey, legal counsel and senior advisor on Indian Affairs on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) chats with Tribal Councilman Steve Lozar and THHS Director Kevin Howlett Monday. (B.L. Azure photo)
PABLO — You don’t need a crystal ball to see that the federal government is on the road to potential fiscal havoc.
Richard Litsey, who serves as legal counsel and senior advisor on Indian affairs on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), visited with the Tribal Council, department heads and top administrators of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Monday to, among other things, remind them of the impending gloom and doom potentially in their future.
Litsey advised them that a “fiscal cliff” awaits them if the U.S. Congress doesn’t adopt a new budget prior to January 1, 2013.
The issue is automatic across-the-board spending cuts to the federal budget that become effective if the U.S. Congress fails to adopt a budget by January 1, 2013. At one minute past midnight January 2 the mandatory funding cuts to the federal budget kick in. And it will be a hard kick.
The automatic cuts or sequester was put in place to spur the super-committee comprised of Republican and Democrat members of Congress towards a mutually agreeable federal budget.
The federal budgets are usually set prior to the upcoming fiscal year that go from October 1 to September 30. The present budget is funded at the last adopted funding levels via a continuing resolution. By January if a new budget isn’t adopted the cuts that kick in will also be applied retroactive to the three months — October through December — funded by the continuing resolution. Consequently the automatic 8-percent cuts that become effective January 2 will be closer to 12-percent because the entire FY 2013 end bottom line will have to reflect 8-percent for the entire year. Consequently the retroactive effect will certainly darken the future of not only Indian Nations but also the less well off among us.
The sequester requires that every federal program, project, activity as well as both houses of Congress and the administration be cut by an equal percentage.
The only sacred cows are Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, veterans’ health care and federal employee pensions. Medicare cuts would be limited to 2-percent.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and other federal programs affecting Indian Nations are in the crosshairs and have never been sacred cows and are consistently underfunded. Consequently the cuts will be harsh below the belt kicks that will leave people gasping.
Couple that with the possibility of the expiration of former President George Bush’s tax cuts a fiscal cliff is dead ahead for all Americans — except the 1-percenters — and the federal government programs.
Hopes for coming up with a mutually agreeable federal budget or another continuing resolution are foggy because of the current political climate, the upcoming elections, the potential of a lame duck Congress and administration, Litsey said.
“There are those in Congress that have favorites (programs) they don’t want to get rid of,” Litsey said. “And there are those who want to eliminate programs they don’t like. At this point no one knows how this will shake out. It’s going to be a mess.”
Richard Litsey counts the possibilities of what could happen in Indian Country if a new federal budget is not adopted before Jan. 1, 2013. If one isn’t mandatory across the board cuts in funding will kick in Jan. 2 and it will be a below the belt hard kick in Indian Country. (B.L. Azure photo)
He said that Congress is currently in recess and many will be away from Washington, D.C. campaigning until the November general election. Following that will be the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday breaks. Consequently the shakers and movers won’t be doing much shaking and moving of official federal business before January 1.
“When Congress reconvenes after the recess I don’t anticipate it will be a robust session,” Litsey said.
Tribal Council Chairman Joe Durglo advised Litsey that the tribal government representatives would like a face-to-face confab with Sen. Baucus in the near future.
Tribal Health and Human Services Director Kevin Howlett asked Litsey for some assistance to set up a process to meet the requirements of a Memorandum of Understanding between THHS and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The MOA would facilitate billing VA for services THHS provides veterans.
“It’s been three years since we signed the MOA and we need to get something in place to pay for the services we provide veterans,” Howlett said.
Two years ago the VA’s Denver Regional Offices conducted a study of VA health service availability to rural veterans in the region. The main finding on the Flathead Indian Reservation was that Indian veterans living on the reservation access the vast majority of their healthcare from THHS and not through VA facilities. It is a draw on THHS’s bottom line that could be rectified with a funding process in place via the MOA policies.
Tribal Councilman Steve Lozar updated Litsey of the Flathead Nation’s ongoing federal reserved water rights compact process.
“The progress has been generally going well,” Lozar said. “But in the last few months another faction, the extreme right wing, has raised their heads and become involved. They are sowing seeds of discontent with the misinformation they are spreading about the negotiations.”
Other discussion focused on the effectiveness of lobbyists; BIA roads funding; energy issues; fractionated lands; natural resource issues; the state sharing with Indian Nations the federal excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment; climate change and other environmental issues; forestry funding and the general lack of response by the Department of Interior to assist to remedy the situation.
Litsey, an attorney and member of the Muscogee nation, formally worked for the Social Security Administration as Hearing Office director in Houston, Texas.
He focuses on issues pertinent to Montana tribal nations including but not limited to Social Security, Indian Health Care and Indian taxes.