Icebreaker Or Border Wall? House Action Jeopardizes Coast Guard Ship Funding

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard, Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard, Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said Friday he is ready to work with Congress to get back money for a new icebreaker that was stripped from the service’s proposed budget allocation to pay for the border wall.

"I'm going to stick by my guns and say I'm guardedly optimistic" that the $750 million for the icebreaker, which was removed from the Coast Guard’s budget proposal by the House, could be restored, Schultz said at a Navy League breakfast.

The Senate has included funding for the long-planned icebreaker, which is needed to boost U.S. presence in the Arctic, but the House version of the Department of Homeland Security proposal would use the $750 million as part of a $5 billion package sought by President Donald Trump for the border wall that the president said is vital to national security.

House Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for the border security initiatives, and the impasse between Democrats and the White House threatens to cause a partial government shutdown on Dec. 21, since Congress has not been able to pass spending bills for the departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Justice, Security, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs were not likely to be affected, as they have already been funded.

"The Senate has done their mark, the House has done their mark" on the Homeland budget, Schultz said, but "this is the conference stages. This is the way things play out in Washington."

He said he expected the budget debate and the shutdown "will probably get more energized before they're done, but we've told our story to our overseers" on the Coast Guard's urgent need for the icebreaker.

"I think they understand it, and now it's the will of the people and the will of the Congress to make the ultimate choices here," Schultz said.

In a statement last week, the White House expressed a desire to fund both the wall and an icebreaker.

The administration "strongly supports the inclusion of $5 billion for border wall construction and associated technology in the Homeland Security appropriations bill recently introduced in the House," noted a statement released by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

It also stated that the administration also supported funding "for a Coast Guard polar icebreaker" in the Homeland bill.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat who is expected to become chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee next month, told The Hill newspaper that "diverting $5 billion out of Homeland Security for that wall" was a disservice to the Coast Guard.

She said the Coast Guard "has been begging" for an icebreaker to patrol the Arctic. "We have one that's 40 years old. They have to go on Ebay to get parts, and there are times when there is literally no U.S. presence in that area."

In his remarks at the Navy League, Schultz focused on the urgent need to replace the nation’s only heavy icebreaker, the 42-year-old Polar Star, as well as the medium icebreaker Healy.

"That ship is tired," Schultz said of the Polar Star, which recently left its port near Seattle for a deployment to Antarctica to clear the way for resupply of the U.S. scientific base at McMurdo Sound.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com

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