Senate Passes Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012

Senate Passes Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012

On June 21st, the Senate passed S. 3240, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, also known as the Farm Bill, by a vote of 64-35. The Farm Bill reauthorizes a wide range of programs including agricultural commodities, nutrition, rural development, forestry, and agricultural research and education. The bill authorizes programs for 5 years that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates would result in over $969B of spending over a 10-year period. The House has yet to introduce a bill, but the House Agriculture Committee has scheduled a markup for July 11th.

Supreme Court Upholds the Affordable Care Act

Supreme Court Upholds the Affordable Care Act

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision on President Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010. The individual coverage mandate of the ACA was upheld under the taxing authority of Congress. The Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), which is included in the overall ACA, also survived the decision intact.

The Court ruled 5 – 4 in favor of the law, which includes a requirement for all Americans to obtain healthcare insurance. Chief Justice John Roberts provided the key vote by the Court to support the individual coverage mandate. Roberts argued that the mandate could not be upheld under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, but it could under the taxing powers of Congress.

Although the ruling addresses the individual mandate, which is a controversial component of the law, it does not directly affect Native Americans who receive care through the Indian Health Service (IHS), tribes, Alaska Native entities and urban Indian organizations because they are exempt from the mandatory requirement.

The views below are from the Supreme Court of the United States Blog: scotusblog.com, an independent blog devoted to covering the Supreme Court.

“Salvaging the idea that Congress did have the power to try to expand health care to virtually all Americans, the Supreme Court on Monday upheld the constitutionality of the crucial – and most controversial — feature of the Affordable Care Act. By a vote of 5-4, however, the Court did not sustain it as a command for Americans to buy insurance, but as a tax if they don’t. That is the way Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., was willing to vote for it, and his view prevailed. The other Justices split 4-4, with four wanting to uphold it as a mandate, and four opposed to it in any form.”

“Essentially, a majority of the Court has accepted the Administration’s backup argument that, as Roberts put it, “the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition — not owning health insurance — that triggers a tax — the required payment to IRS.” Actually, this was the Administration’s second backup argument: first argument was Commerce Clause, second was Necessary and Proper Clause, and third was as a tax. The third argument won.”

In addition to the individual mandate, the Supreme Court also ruled on the provisions of the ACA that compelled states to expand Medicaid eligibility with additional federal funding by eliminating all Medicaid funding for a state if it did not expand its coverage. These provisions were a critical piece to the Administration’s goal of increasing health care insurance coverage. In a complicated ruling, the Court ruled that under the Constitution, the government could offer the states additional funding to expand Medicaid eligibility, and if the states accepted these funds, then the state would have to accept the new eligibility requirements. However, the Court ruled that the government could not withhold all of a state’s Medicaid funding if it did not accept the new funding. Thus, the Court has essentially created an opt-in provision to the increased Medicaid eligibility requirements, allowing each state to decide whether they want to expand Medicaid coverage or not. Clearly, this ruling will complicate the administration’s desire to expand health insurance coverage through Medicaid, but given the increased federal funding attached to an expansion of Medicaid eligibility for a state, it is not yet clear what the practical effect will be on the expansion of Medicaid throughout the states.

The opinion:
http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-393c3a2.pdf

VAWA Update: National Day of Action Rally

VAWA Update: National Day of Action Rally

Dozens of tribal and domestic violence organizations – and hundreds of advocates – gathered on the Capitol grounds yesterday to re-energize efforts to Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Below is a short report on the Rally, a summary of the status of the Reauthorization, and a call to action towards final passage of VAWA with the tribal criminal jurisdiction provisions in tact.

VAWA Update – National Day of Action Rally

June 27th, House Oversight Hearing on Federal Recognition

June 27th, House Oversight Hearing on Federal Recognition

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs has scheduled an oversight hearing for Wednesday, June 27, 2012 on the “Authorization, standards, and procedures for whether, how, and when Indian tribes should be newly recognized by the federal government.”

The hearing will be held in room 1334 of the Longworth House Office Building at 2:00 pm. Witnesses for testimony will be by invitation only, and a list will be posted on the Subcommittee’s website once it is confirmed.

For further information, please contact Chris Fluhr, Staff Director, Brandon Ashley, Legislative Staff or Ana Fonokalafi‐McMullen, Clerk on the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, at (202) 226‐9725.

For information about the Subcommittee click here.

Senate Reaches Agreement to Consider Farm Bill

Senate Reaches Agreement to Consider Farm Bill

On June 18th, the Senate reached a consent agreement to proceed to consideration of S. 3240, Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012, also known as the Farm Bill. Previously, the bill had been passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee in April and brought to the floor of the Senate for consideration in June. However, the bill had stalled with over 300 amendments filed to the bill including many unrelated to agriculture programs and looked to be in danger of not being considered. Now, the Senate has reached an agreement to only consider 73 of the filed amendments and then proceed to final consideration of the bill.

The Senate Farm Bill does make a number of changes including replacing the current direct and countercyclical payments program with a new crop insurance program, streamlining conservation programs, and cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill is expected to cut $23.6B from agriculture programs over the next 10 years. In addition, there are a few provisions specifically affecting Indian country including the reauthorization of Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, greater flexibility in the funding arrangements for conservation programs for tribes, the reauthorization of programs for the 1994 Land Grant Educational Institution, and the easing of some credit restrictions on farm operations on tribal land, and the streamlining of lending for the highly fractionated land acquisition program.

The amendments to be considered by the Senate cover a broad range of programs from amendments to the new crop insurance provisions, to SNAP, to rural development. Among the amendments to be considered are two tribal specific provisions offered by Senator Akaka. The first (SA 2396) would permanently establish an Office of Tribal Relations within the Department of Agriculture. The second (SA 2440) would further streamline the Department of Agriculture’s highly fractionated land acquisition program.

Although significant opposition remains to the bill both from regional blocs of Senators opposed to the changes in the direct payments programs and from fiscal conservatives, who believe that the bill does not cut enough spending, it is expected that the Senate will pass the Farm Bill.

VAWA UPDATE: National Day of Action

VAWA UPDATE: National Day of Action

The 2012 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization remains stalled due to significant differences in the Senate (S. 1925) and House (HR 4970) passed bills, and procedural posturing. House and Senate leaders agree on the importance of reauthorizing VAWA this year, but they continue to disagree on substance of the reauthorization and the process to move forward.

In order to pressure both chambers to move forward, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence has scheduled a National Day of Action in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The National Task Force (NTF) is made up of tribal, state, and local organizations and individuals committed to securing an end to violence against women.

NTF has strongly backed inclusion and retention of the tribal criminal jurisdiction provisions in the 2012 VAWA Reauthorization. They have coordinated and worked with NCAI on this important issue. The NTF is also supporting inclusion of the Senate bill’s provisions to expand domestic violence protections for the immigrant the LGTB community.

Provisions to restore local tribal control to investigate and prosecute reservation acts of domestic and dating violence will play a big role in the Rally. Women tribal leaders and tribal advocates will march on the Hill, and participate in meetings with congressional decisions makers during the week.

All Tribes are urged to consider invoking grass roots campaigns, conducting local public relations efforts, and directly contacting their home state House and Senate delegation during this important week. Tribes should urge their delegation to support inclusion of the tribal criminal jurisdiction provisions in the final VAWA bill. These provisions will restore local control to tribal governments, and provide the only way to stop the epidemic of violence against Native women and children.