By Oren Liebermann, Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb, CNN
The Nebraska National Guard has begun canceling training events as other Guard units across the country prepare to take even more drastic measures if Congress doesn’t reimburse the National Guard Bureau for the more than half a billion dollars spent securing the Capitol in the months following the January 6th riot.
The annual weapons qualification this coming weekend for some members of the Nebraska Guard was canceled to save on travel, lodging, and meal costs, all of which have been scaled back to save money, Maj. Scott Ingalsbe, spokesman for the Nebraska National Guard, told CNN.
“We just couldn’t incur the cost,” Ingalsbe said. Instead, the Guard will conduct a training weekend at its home base. An upcoming marksmanship exercise for early-August was also canceled, as were a pre-command course, firearms training for soldiers who need to improve their marksmanship, and more.
The cancellations will spread beyond Nebraska to more states if the National Guard Bureau isn’t reimbursed $521 million for the cost of the securing the Capitol through late May.
“If funding isn’t sorted by the first of August, this list will grow,” said National Guard Bureau spokesman Wayne Hall.
The canceled exercises underscore the real-world consequences that are arising from a funding impasse in Congress over providing supplemental funding in the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, which led to thousands of National Guard being deployed at the Capitol for several months afterward. The US Capitol Police is also facing a funding crunch, and lawmakers have warned there could be furloughs in August without additional funding.
Guard units are preparing for the much more serious prospect of canceling entire drill weekends and annual exercises, as Guard leaders have begun pulling unobligated dollars to close the funding gap.
“The Illinois National Guard may be required to cancel August and September, cancel upcoming annual training events, furlough over one thousand federal civilian employees, ground aircraft, which will cause pilots to lose critical flight readiness ratings, cancel essential military schools, pull transportation,” said Maj. Gen. Richard Neely, the Illinois Adjutant General, at a media roundtable last week. Illinois committed more than 800 Guardsmen to the Capitol mission and another 3,000 for the Covid-19 response.
“It would be punishing the force that has worked extremely hard the last two years to ensure the National Guard is always ready and always there when our nation in our community needs us,” Neely said.
The danger of canceled training comes at a critical time, with wildfires raging on the West Coast and hurricane season fast approaching on the East Coast, two periods when Guardsmen are often called in to help in the event of a natural disaster.
Governors and local officials have taken up the call this week, writing letters to senators and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking that the reimbursement funding be approved quickly, before the cancellation of drill weekends affects the readiness of the Guard to respond in an emergency.
In a letter to Pelosi and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said that if Congress does not reimburse the Guard for protecting Capitol Hill after January 6, “the training schedule for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2021 is in jeopardy.”
Canceling training “will impact readiness” from “delaying occupational and career advancement schools,” to “degraded response capability” to respond to domestic emergencies, Burgum said in the letter.
The Maryland National Guard Adjutant General Timothy Gowen also wrote a letter to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) requesting Congress reimburse the Guard for the funding, stating without an “immediate” response, the Maryland National Guard will have to “cancel most of our drill and annual training periods for the rest of the fiscal year.”
Maryland Gov. Lary Hogan tweeted the letter Gowen sent to Cardin on July 20, asking Congress to take “urgent action to prevent major disruptions to ongoing operations.”
Negotiations taking place
The Senate Appropriations Committee has been negotiating a supplemental funding package that would include funding for the National Guard as well as Capitol Police, after the House passed a $2 billion security package earlier this year.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Leahy unveiled a $3.7 billion supplemental funding bill last week that would provide additional funds for both the Guard and Capitol Police, as well as other matters such as boosting the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program and providing courts funding to boost their security after January 6.
But Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the panel’s top Republican, said Leahy’s package was too broad. He’s proposed a narrower $1 billion package that includes funding for the Guard and Capitol Police. Shelby has said he’s open to including funding for the Afghan visa program, though he’s been skeptical of tacking on additional issues.
Both Leahy and Shelby have expressed optimism thew committee will reach an agreement before Congress leaves town for the August recess. “We have not reached an agreement yet, but I think we’re really close,” Shelby told reporters on Thursday. “But that’s still not there.”
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