Montana Free Press: Tester presses the case for National Guard reimbursement

by Alex Sakariassen

Nearly seven months after a violent insurrection rocked the U.S. Capitol, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester took to the Senate floor Wednesday urging fellow lawmakers to promptly reimburse the National Guard for responding to what he called “the darkest day for Congress in more than 200 years.” His speech echoed a growing bipartisan chorus of voices in the U.S. House and Senate calling for legislation to cover the costs of a five-month deployment sparked by the insurrection, which National Guard officials have estimated at $521 million.

“Americans in uniform that day stepped up to protect Congress,” Tester said. “The officers of the Capitol police and other law enforcement agencies literally put their lives on the line to protect senators, congressmen, and to protect our Constitution. More than 25,000 members of the National Guard also came from across the country to secure Capitol Hill, including from my home state of Montana.”

The insurrection that triggered the deployment was led by supporters of former President Donald Trump, who clashed with Capitol police and vandalized Capitol property on Jan. 6 as Congress was certifying the 2020 election results.

Gov. Greg Gianforte dispatched 150 members of the Montana National Guard to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 16 to provide additional security during President Joe Biden’s inauguration. He recalled those troops on Jan. 22, stating via Twitter that their mission was “complete.” Some National Guard units from elsewhere in the country remained in the capital until May.

The proposed reimbursement is part of a $2.1 billion bipartisan funding deal announced this week to address budget gaps created by the insurrection response at multiple agencies.

National Guard officials have cautioned that without congressional assistance to fill those budget gaps, the readiness of guardsmen across the country could be at risk. According to The Hill, the Nebraska National Guard has already canceled six events including a marksmanship exercise in an effort to conserve money.

Colonel Renee Dorvall, director of operations for the Montana Army National Guard, told Montana Free Press via email that the state has enough funding to proceed with all scheduled training events through the end of this fiscal year. Dorvall added that Montana currently has five units conducting training to prepare for upcoming deployments.

“If Congress does not pass the Capital Response Bill prior to Aug. 2,” Dorvall added, “the Montana National Guard could see an impact for the next fiscal year.”

Gianforte spokesperson Brooke Stroyke told Montana Free Press Wednesday that the governor believes it’s “past time for the federal government to step up and pay its bill.” A spokesperson for Republican Sen. Steve Daines also said reimbursement for the Montana National Guard’s response is “vital.”

“With that said,” Daines’ office continued, “the full proposal contains other provisions, which he is still reviewing.”

Tester, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said in his Wednesday speech that the $2.1 billion allocation containing the National Guard reimbursement also includes funding for the Capitol Police to help avoid potential furloughs and money to assist Afghan refugees who aided National Guard troops in Afghanistan. The Senate has yet to take action on the proposal, but a spokesperson for Tester’s office said a vote could happen by the end of the week.