Aid bill for Capitol security, Afghan refugees headed to Biden’s desk

Vote of 416-11 in House came hours after 98-0 Senate vote

National Guard troops walk through the Senate tunnel to the Capitol on March 5. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
National Guard troops walk through the Senate tunnel to the Capitol on March 5. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 29, 2021 at 2:55pm, Updated at 5:00pm

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve a $2.1 billion spending bill meant to shore up their own safety in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, reimburse the National Guard for a monthslong activation to secure the complex and relocate Afghans who helped the U.S. government during the war.

The 416-11 House vote Thursday afternoon clears the measure for President Joe Biden’s signature with just days to spare before the Capitol Police and National Guard are expected to face funding shortfalls related to the insurrection by pro-Trump rioters.

House passage came just hours after the Senate's 98-0 vote. Though lawmakers in that chamber gave the measure a strong bipartisan vote, House members weren't entirely pleased with the final product or that it took the Senate about two months to approve its version after the House acted on an earlier version.

The Senate's amendment to the House bill “does not include resources to prosecute the terrorists who attacked our government and it does not have enough funding to secure the Capitol for the long term,” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said during a brief debate. “These needs will not disappear and as we pass this bill today we know that we are not finished, and we are committed to filling in the gaps the Senate amendment has left.”

The Appropriations panel's top Republican, Texas Rep. Kay Granger, voted against the House’s original version in May. While expressing disappointment that it took so long, Granger called the Senate compromise a "a strong package that deserves our support."

Before Senate passage, that chamber adopted by voice vote an amendment from Tom Cotton, R-Ark., that would require the secretaries of Defense and State to send 10 congressional committees a report within one year of enactment detailing aspects of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program.

“In recent years, there's been an effort to increase the number of visas, but no administration — the Obama administration, the Trump administration, the Biden administration — has ever estimated exactly how many visas might be needed, total, in the future,” Cotton said in a brief interview Thursday. “So rather than continue this stopgap fashion, I think, Congress should get more visibility into how many Afghans worked for the U.S. coalition in positions that might make them eligible; so we can have a more thoughtful and kind of efficient approach to the SIV program.”

The report would include the total number of visas by fiscal year, the role that made the individual eligible for the visa, average processing times for applicants, the number of pending applications, the number of successful appeals and the number of people eligible to apply for the visa who never did.

Increasing the number of available visas for Afghans who worked for or with the U.S. government by 8,000 ends up adding nearly $900 million to the total cost of the bill over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Those individuals would become eligible for federal benefit programs, which increases mandatory spending. That spending would be on top of the $2.1 billion appropriated under the bill.

The Senate earlier voted 72-26 to waive a budget point of order from Mike Braun, R-Ind., that the package violated section 302(c) of the 1974 budget law, which “prohibits consideration of legislation from Appropriations Committee that provides new budget authority if the Committee has not yet filed its subcommittee allocations.”

Braun said during a floor speech that he believed major parts of the package could have been paid for by offsetting funding at the Defense Department and criticized both parties for not showing more fiscal restraint on deficit spending.

“It seems like Congress can only agree on one thing — deficits and debt don’t matter anymore. But they do and both parties are to blame,” Braun said.

Braun was the only Republican to speak out against the emergency spending in the bill, with other senators urging their colleagues to support it.

‘Moral responsibility’

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., cited the need to help the police who defended lawmakers on Jan. 6 and those Afghans who backed the U.S. intervention in that country for the last two decades.

“We must support those who supported us — that’s not just a political or economic responsibility, that's a moral responsibility,” Leahy said. Without additional funds, he added, the Capitol Police would deplete “salaries' funding in literally a matter of weeks” and National Guard units “all over the country would be forced to cancel needed training.”

Added Leahy: “If we did nothing there would be a security crisis entirely of our own making." 

The White House released a statement of administration policy during the vote series, announcing it supported the bipartisan agreement and urging its passage. That endorsement should give it a lift when the measure goes back to the narrowly divided House, where some progressives have expressed concerns with the Senate deal.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told reporters Thursday she didn't like that the Senate took money for Capitol custodian pay out of the House-passed version, for instance.

"I feel like the people that look after the Capitol deserve that pay," Jayapal said. "So I think we've got to make sure that some pieces are in there so that the people who work in this building, experienced so much trauma, are actually able to get compensated for that work. So there are a few things like that that I think we're looking at, and obviously if you take those things out, you may lose more members."

Jayapal voted for the House bill, but three of her progressive colleagues did not — and three others voted "present" — due to concerns over aid to law enforcement without restrictions on police conduct. The result was a 213-212 squeaker on that chamber's $1.9 billion version in May.

House-Senate differences

The Senate package trims funding that was in the House version, including money for the House and Senate sergeant-at-arms to fund security upgrades at district offices, coordinate member security while traveling and conduct an enhanced security and threat assessment.

The Senate added $1.1 billion that wasn't in the House version to help relocate Afghans who would likely face repercussions following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The money would be divided between three federal departments with $600 million for the State Department, $500 million for the Defense Department and $25 million for the Health and Human Services Department.

The Senate bill would match the House's $521 million to reimburse the National Guard, though senators did not include $200 million to create a “rapid response force” within the D.C. National Guard. There were bipartisan concerns about taking such a task out of the hands of civilian law enforcement.

Under the Senate bill, Capitol Police would receive $70.7 million for salaries, equipment and other expenses related to the insurrection by pro-Trump rioters. That’s higher than the $61.9 million in funding for various Capitol Police accounts House Democrats put in their bill.

Before the vote began, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he hoped the vote to approve the package would be unanimous to show support for the Capitol Police.

“It’s hard for me to believe that any member would not want to support the Capitol Police," Schumer said. "For members to take umbrage at the Capitol Police when they did their job and protected us, for some kind of crazy ideological reason, would be disgraceful."

The Architect of the Capitol would get $300 million to bolster windows and doors throughout the complex and to install new security cameras, much less than the $569.7 million they would have received under the House bill.

The Senate package would appropriate $42.1 million to address the ongoing costs of COVID-19 throughout the Capitol complex, much less than the more than $155.1 million in the House version.

The original House-passed package also included $39.5 million to help prosecute the people charged with crimes for attacking Congress in an attempt to halt the certification of the electoral college. That funding would have provided $34 million to U.S. Attorneys, $3.8 million to the Justice Department’s criminal division and $1.7 million to its national security division.

Chris Cioffi and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.