Fri, December 03, 2021


Members of Congress demand immediate funding for Capitol Police, but face headwinds in the Senate

WASHINGTON - Members of Congress are sounding the alarm over the need to immediately fund the U.S. Capitol Police and National Guard or risk both security departments running out of money, potentially leading to hundreds of furloughs and cuts that would mark the latest setback for the forces after a tumultuous year.

Money allotted yearly to an account that pays for the thousands of Capitol Police officers is running out faster than in previous years because of overtime incurred by officers after the Jan. 6 insurrection. The end of the fiscal year is Sept. 30, but Congress has been unable to pass all appropriation bills through both chambers by that date for the past several years, delaying necessary funding to keep the Capitol safe.

House Democrats, in particular, are pressuring the Senate to immediately consider passing a $1.9 billion emergency security supplemental measure during the July session that would quickly allot $31 million to cover overtime pay, a demand that can be made difficult by a packed summer legislative calendar.

While it's possible to reallocate current funds to the overtime pay account, according to two sources familiar with funding, it would only deplete other necessary sources. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and legislative branch appropriations subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who oversees the Capitol Police, warn that failure of the Senate to pass the legislation will force the department to make an "unacceptable choice: furloughing officers or forgoing the services, like mental health and wellness support, that officers need."

"The solution lies in the Senate. It is time for the Senate to come to the table, honor the sacrifice of the Capitol Police, and swiftly pass the emergency supplemental," they wrote in a joint statement Friday.

Senate Democratic leaders have not said whether they will consider the security supplemental passed by the House in May before August recess.

In a draft obtained by The Washington Post, Senate Republicans have proposed their own more narrow plan for addressing the shortfall of funding for the Capitol Police, but it's unclear how much Democrats are willing to scale back their plan to attract GOP support.

The news of the depleting account was first reported by Punchbowl News.

The urgent need to fund the Capitol Police comes after the force has faced dozens of resignations by officers since Trump supporters stormed the Capitol complex and violently attacked those trying to protect lawmakers who voted whether to certify the presidential election on Jan 6. Officer Brian D. Sicknick died after suffering injuries during the insurrection, while two others later died by suicide.

Morale took another blow in April when Officer William "Billy" Evans died after being struck by a driver who hit him and another officer protecting the North Portico of the Capitol.

Moreover, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned during a Senate Appropriations hearing last month that if the National Guard does not get reimbursement soon for staffing the Capitol daily for months after the insurrection, it would be forced to cancel trainings and drills.

While the bill narrowly passed the House last month, the Senate has yet to take it into consideration as Democrats strategize on how they can overcome the filibuster and bring on 10 Republicans to support the measure. But the likelihood of bipartisan support is slim, especially since no Republicans voted to pass the bill in the House.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., urged his colleagues last month to work with him on a compromise solution if they cannot find the votes necessary to pass the supplemental.

"We will be turning our backs on those who fought, led and died on that day to protect us and defend this building and everything it stands for. We will be forcing the women and men of the National Guard to go without training that is necessary to achieve their mission. And we will be telling the Capitol staff who support us that we do not support them," he said on the Senate floor in late June.

Senate Republicans prefer a piecemeal approach, addressing immediate funding to keep officers on the clock while waiting to pass a larger emergency supplemental bill to address security improvements and fiscal losses due to the insurrection. They offered their own bill days after Leahy's plea and proposed allotting more than $37 million to officer pay, with $3.6 million going toward retention bonuses and $6.9 million for hazard pay. Over $1 million would go toward wellness programs. The measure also would give $231 million to the National Guard for expenses incurred.

"We should pass now what we all agree on: The Capitol Police and National Guard are running out of money, the clock is ticking and we need to take care of them," said Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

In response to the new proposal, Leahy said he was "glad" to see Senate Republicans come to the table but signaled it's unlikely Democrats will use it as a framework because it does not allot money to pay for security upgrades at the Capitol or staff who cleaned up the damage left by insurrectionists.

"Unfortunately, it is impossible to budget for a violent insurrection, and the Republican proposal simply does not provide costs incurred," Leahy said before announcing his plan to release a Democratic proposal next week.

It's unclear whether Democrats would support the legislation or push for a more compromised approach. House Democrats were barely able to pass the initial security supplemental legislation after three members of "the Squad" of liberal representives voted against and three others voted "present" in protest that the bill gives more money to police rather than remedying other problems.

The House and the Senate already face a busy summer calendar as they currently prioritize passing legislation that would help move President Joe Biden's infrastructure proposals through Congress and yearly appropriation bills in the next three weeks in session.

In the interim, acting U.S. Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman marked the six months after the insurrection earlier this week by announcing that the force has increased training for officers and intelligence sharing and expanded its presence nationwide by establishing satellite offices in Florida and California to curb extremist threats.

Published : July 10, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Marianna Sotomayor