House Republicans and the nation's largest association of retired military officers have called on the Trump administration to scrap a reported plan for a major cut in the Coast Guard budget, in part to pay for the proposed wall on the Mexican border.
"We cannot defend our homeland and continue critical security missions without the U.S. Coast Guard. It is as simple as that," Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican and member of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, said in a statement.
"Whomever is advising President Trump that the service could do more with even less is detached from the facts and reality on the ground," he said.
LoBiondo and Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the proposed cuts to the already under-resourced spending plan would devastate the service's drug interdiction efforts.
They were responding to reports that the White House Office of Management and Budget is considering a $1.3 billion cut in the Coast Guard's proposed fiscal 2017 budget of $10.3 billion, forcing the cancellation of a contract for a new National Security Cutter.
A Coast Guard statement Wednesday said the service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is engaged in discussions "as part of the normal process to finalize the president's budget request to Congress. As these discussions are pre-decisional, we do not comment on these deliberations."
However, Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has been outspoken in calling for more resources for a service struggling to maintain more than 50-year-old cutters amid increasing demands to cut off the flow of drugs from South America.
"Last year, we removed more cocaine than any other year in history -- well over 200 metric tons -- and by all accounts, it looks like this year we are on target to at least reach, if not exceed, last year's total," Zukunft told Business Insider.
DHS Secretary John Kelly, a retired Marine general, has also been a major booster of more resources for the Coast Guard. In his last post as commander of U.S. Southern Command, Kelly routinely heaped praise on the service for aiding his efforts at drug interdiction.
A draft of the proposed budget by OMB obtained by The Washington Post indicates the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration could face cuts.
"The budget prioritizes DHS law enforcement operations, proposes critical investments in frontline border security and funds continued development of robust cybersecurity defenses," the draft said.
In addition, "The budget aggressively implements the president's commitment to construct a physical wall along the southern border," the draft said. Trump has said that Mexico eventually will pay for the wall -- though Mexico has adamantly refused -- but the initial costs will be picked up by the U.S.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has estimated the wall will cost $12 billion to 15 billion, but other estimates put the cost at more than $21 billion.
In a statement Wednesday, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, president of the 390,000-member Military Officers Association of America, said, "We believe a billion-dollar reduction from the USCG budget will significantly reduce the capabilities of our nation's armed maritime security force, which handles critical domestic safety, drug interdiction and rescue operations."
Atkins said MOAA also opposes cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which would "severely limit important weather monitoring services that keep citizens, businesses, and the military safe from extreme weather."
He said MOAA appreciates Trump's proposed increase of $54 billion for the Department of Defense but, "We respectfully request the USCG and NOAA not be discounted as non-defense agencies. Rather, consider them critical enablers to defense missions with commensurate budgets to support those missions."