With time running out, Republicans and Democrats remain at odds over how to move forward on a funding package designed to improve security on Capitol Hill and fill a massive funding gap for Capitol Police and the National Guard that was created in the wake of the January 6 insurrection.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, is pushing a $3.7 billion proposal that would fill the funding gap and also would provide funding to harden the Capitol’s physical infrastructure and for security enhancements at federal courts. On the Senate floor Monday, Leahy argued that these security enhancements are just as immediate a need as funding the Capitol Police and National Guard.
“The Capitol and its office buildings are not impenetrable. It’s not a fortress. The windows can be broken. The doors can be breached,” Leahy said. “This complex is no longer shrouded with the protection of belief that is not possible to storm these halls. Much like the windows, that protection was shattered and it was broadcast to the whole world on January 6.”
But Republicans argue that Leahy’s bill is also filled with pet funding projects that have nothing to do with Capitol security. Among them, funding for Afghans seeking special visas to escape the country as the US military leaves and a wide range of funding for federal agencies to help implement Covid safety protocols.
In an interview with CNN, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the vice chairman of the Appropriations panel, argued that this funding package should focus only on the most pressing needs of Capitol security.
“We are far apart. Sen. Leahy’s bill was $3 billion. The bill I introduced was less than a billion dollars,” Shelby said. “We want to fund the police, we want to fund the National Guard and their need now. They claim that’s what they want to do but they have a lot of extraneous things in there, which we’re not going to support. It’s not going anywhere.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed back on Republican claims that funding proposals outside of Capitol security were unnecessary and pointed to the funding of Afghan Special Immigrant Visas as an example.
“If they don’t, these people who risked their lives for our soldiers could be lined up and shot, by some prognostications, so why wouldn’t we want to do that as well?” the New York Democrat asked.
Schumer stopped short of saying he would bring the Leahy bill to the floor to force Republicans to take a tough vote to deny the Capitol Police and National Guard the funding they need, but he did accuse the GOP of playing politics with their funding.
“But these folks defended us,” he said. “These folks are doing their job. And the Republicans are somehow like they get so contorted and so twisted in a knot that they’re withholding money from them. Stop it!”
Shelby did not seem to be worried about Schumer’s threat, saying the Republican caucus would stay united in denying Democrats the 10 votes they need to pass the bill if it includes all the extra provisions they deem unnecessary.
“Voting against the big package loaded with a lot of stuff?” Shelby asked. “Absolutely, that’s easy. That’s an easy vote.”
But while both sides are talking tough at this point, there are signs that negotiations are happening and some progress is being made. Shelby and Leahy spoke on the Senate floor on two different occasions on Tuesday and Shelby said their staffs are in regular communication.
“We keep talking. I’ve talked to Sen. Leahy two or three times a day, and I’d like to, in the next several weeks, try to do something. But fund the police and fund the Guard,” he said.
His fellow Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, expressed optimism that the two old Senate hands would be able to strike a deal.
“We want to keep it focused on the issue at hand and not make a Christmas tree out of it, but I think Leahy and Shelby will get there,” Graham said.
And when pressed on whether the two sides are at an impasse or a deal can be made, Shelby responded, “We’re talking.”