Congress Clears $2.1 Billion for Security, Afghan Visas

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Congress sent President Joe Biden an emergency $2.1 billion spending bill to cover costs associated with defending the Capitol in the wake of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot and to grant immigrant visas to Afghans who aided the U.S. during the war in Afghanistan.

The House cleared the legislation 416-11 Thursday shortly after it passed the Senate on a 98-0 vote. Biden is expected to sign it into law.

Looming funding shortfalls for the National Guard and the Capitol Police along with the prospect of Afghan allies being executed by the Taliban as it claims territory in the country drove quick action in Congress.

“This bill is not perfect but time is running short and the needs are dire,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy called passage of the legislation “a moral responsibility.”

“We must support those who supported us,” Leahy, the bill’s sponsor, said.

The bill includes more than $500 million for the National Guard, $100 million for Capitol Police and $300 million for new security measures at the Capitol. In addition, it has more than $1 billion in funding through the Defense, State and Health and Human Services Departments to help pay the costs of resettling Afghans. It also makes 8,000 visas available to those Afghans, an addition to the 4,000 special immigrant visas available in the current fiscal year. The State Department has issued 26,500 such visas since 2014.

The House in May passed a $2 billion bill focused on Capitol security upgrades, including fencing and a rapid reaction force not funded in the Senate bill, as well as worker bonuses. But given the pressure of funding deadlines for Capitol Police and the National Guard and the start of a House recess after Friday, the House took up the Senate version.

Thursday’s overwhelming support for the bill stood in contrast to the much closer 213-212 vote in the House in May, when three progressives, expressing broad concerns about police brutality and funding, joined with Republicans to vote against it. Three other progressives voted “present.” This time all six of those progressives voted no.

“There was an increase in Capitol police, and we just voted on an appropriations bill that gives a substantial amount of resources to Capitol police,” New York Representative Jamaal Bowman said. “So if we’re already funding them robustly, why do they also need this increase?”

He also objected to the rushed consideration of the Senate version, which left House members with no time to read it.

Bowman was joined in voting no on Thursday by fellow progressives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Cori Bush of Missouri.

Republicans Bob Good of Virginia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Tom McClintock of California, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Chip Roy of Texas also voted against the spending bill on Thursday.

The Senate vote came about after GOP leaders dealt with a temporary blockade of the bill by seven Republicans, some relating to the cost and others to the expansion of visas.

Republicans lifted their hold on the bill after Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, an immigration hardliner who served in Afghanistan, secured a reporting requirement on Afghan visas and the Senate took a procedural vote related to waiving budget rules.

Passage of the bill comes the same week as the first hearing of a House special committee on the insurrection, in which police officers described fearing for their lives in the assault by a violent mob.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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