Funding fight imperils National Guard ops
National Guard training and maintenance operations are in danger over a stalemate in Congress on Capitol security funding legislation.
The Guard’s deployment to the Capitol in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection left it with a $521 million bill that, absent new funding from Congress, it has had to pay out of its existing budget.
That means, officials are warning, the Guard will have to nix weekend drills, annual training and planned maintenance in August and September.
Already, processes are in motion that could lead to those events being canceled as lawmakers struggle to find a way forward on legislation that would reimburse the Guard.
“The sooner Congress acts, the better,” said John Goheen, a spokesperson for the National Guard Association of the United States. “Yesterday would not be soon enough because the wheels are already turning.”
“Many states have already gone through the process of looking at how much money they’re down and then, what they have to cancel,” he added. “And they’ll have to make a choice between what they absolutely have to do and what they really should be doing.”
There is broad bipartisan support to pay back the Guard for reinforcing Capitol security for nearly five months after supporters of former President Trump attacked the building in January.
At the height of the deployment, the nation’s capital teemed with nearly 26,000 Guardsmen from every state and territory.
But the issue of reimbursing the Guard has been bogged down by disagreements over what else should be included in a Capitol security bill.
In May, the House approved a $1.9 billion bill that included money for the Guard as well as other funds to “harden” Capitol security.
But that bill was seen as a nonstarter by Senate Republicans, and there was little movement in the upper chamber on the issue until this past week.
On Monday, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) unveiled competing proposals for a Capitol security bill.
The Republican offer would provide about $632 million, including the Guard funding as well as roughly $97 million for the Capitol Police and $15 million for the Architect of the Capitol.
The $3.7 billion Democratic proposal also included National Guard and Capitol Police funding, but also goes broader to include visas for Afghans who helped the U.S. military, coronavirus-related funds, money to fund the Justice Department’s investigation into the Jan. 6 attack and money to fortify the Capitol complex. Republicans quickly balked at the Democratic offer.
Leahy then made another offer, which also included the $521 million for the Guard, his spokesperson confirmed to The Hill. The negotiations “remain ongoing,” the spokesperson added.
Asked for Shelby’s reaction to Leahy’s latest offer, a GOP aide said he “believes we should address our immediate needs now — funding for the National Guard and Capitol Police.”
But, potentially removing one obstacle, Shelby is also “willing to address the Afghan issue at this time,” the aide added.
House Republicans, meanwhile, are demanding the lower chamber take up another “clean” bill to reimburse the Guard.
“We must come together and pass a clean supplemental to ensure the National Guard, which remained unnecessarily at the Capitol with your support, has the funds needed to train for and fulfill their mission,” House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Roger (R-Ala.) wrote in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday calling on her to cancel August recess until Guard funding is approved.
On Friday, GOP Reps. Steve Womack (Ark.); Kay Granger (Texas), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee; and Ken Calvert (Calif.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee introduced their own bill to reimburse the Guard.
“Instead of partisan bickering and bloated spending packages that do not meet the definition of ‘emergency,’ it’s time for Congress to do its most basic duty and provide our men and women in uniform with the funding they are owed,” Womack said in a statement on the bill.
Womack also offered an amendment to reimburse the Guard when the Appropriations Committee considered the fiscal year 2022 defense spending bill earlier in the week, but he withdrew it without a vote, conceding that wasn’t the right forum for emergency spending.
In response to Womack’s amendment, House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chair Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) pledged to “work night and day to get the Guard paid on time.”
With little sign a breakthrough is imminent, the adjutant generals for state National Guards around the country have already been notified by the Guard Bureau that their unobligated funds will be pulled back in order to pay other bills and avoid a violation of the Antideficiency Act, Maj. Gen. Richard Neely, adjutant general for the Illinois National Guard, confirmed to reporters Friday.
For his state, he said, that could mean canceling August and September weekend drills for 13,000 soldiers and airmen, halting annual training events, furloughing more than 1,000 federal civilian employees and grounding aircraft.
Guardsmen could also lose two months of drill pay, which would in turn cause them to rack up a debt to the government for benefits such as life insurance and TRICARE health insurance, Neely added.
“Given what the National Guard has done in the last 18 months, we would be sending a terrible message to thousands of dedicated men and women of the Illinois National Guard, who have given — who have taken the oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Neely said. “They acted honorably. They upheld their oath countless times and in some of the most difficult situations. It’s time for the federal government to keep its promise.”
Neely participated in a media roundtable Friday alongside Maj. Gen. Dale Lyles, the adjutant general for the Indiana National Guard, and Brig. Gen. John Driscoll, the land component commander of the Massachusetts National Guard.
In Indiana, the 54th Security Forces Assistance Brigade is supposed to start training next month for an overseas deployment, while other companies are getting ready to train to deploy to the southwest border. Without that training, Lyles said, Guardsmen are at risk of “not being trained at a level of proficiency that I would deem necessary to deploy them.”
The trio warned all National Guards in the country are facing similar issues.
“We wouldn’t be having this teleconference today if we had a high confidence that we would get the funding in time,” Neely said.
The funding issue is the latest stressor on the National Guard after a year of record deployments that included responding to the Capitol attack, the COVID-19 pandemic and last summer’s racial justice protests, on top of its usual missions of natural disasters and overseas conflicts.
And it comes as the country is bracing for what is expected to be a particularly brutal wildfire and hurricane season.
“Since 1636, always ready, always there. We will never say no, and we will make it work, as we did with the Capitol response,” Driscoll said when asked how cancelling training would affect the Guard’s disaster response.
Still, he added, just like when a football team misses practice, “you can still play, but what you won’t be at your peak, you won’t be won’t be as focused, as in the game.”
Compounding the issue is the fact that Guardsmen have civilian jobs, meaning training can’t be easily rescheduled even after Congress approves funding. Training exercises are typically scheduled years in advance.
“It starts an accumulating effect, like a snowball, if we don’t get this going,” Driscoll said. “Can we recover? Absolutely. But again, will we be as ready? Definitely not.”