Bipartisanship: Opposition to Coast Guard cuts grows on Capitol Hill

Who said Donald Trump couldn’t bring a new era of bipartisan cooperation to Congress? Predictably, opposition to spending cuts has provided the common ground for unity on Capitol Hill, but on this issue they may have a point. Republicans and Democrats are protesting the White House budget proposal to cut the Coast Guard budget by 14%, especially given the president’s emphasis on national security:

Dozens of lawmakers are urging House leaders who oversee the budget to block any move by the Trump administration to slash Coast Guard funding, saying a proposal to do so is “cause for serious alarm” and “nonsensical” if the president plans to expand the other armed services.

The bipartisan call was issued Monday in a letter to Rep. John Carter (R.-Tex.), who leads the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D.-Calif.), the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat. The effort was spearheaded by Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R.-Calif.), who supported Donald Trump during his campaign but disagrees with an Office of Management and Budget proposal to cut about $500 million for a new Coast Guard national security cutter and millions of dollars for long-standing efforts such as Maritime Security Response Teams, which patrol ports and other sensitive waterways for potential terrorists.

The cut to the Coast Guard amounts to $1.3 billion, and the savings will get applied to the cost of building the wall on the southern border. Some will argue that if Republicans want to get serious about reducing the federal budget, they’ll need to make these kinds of trade-offs to prioritize the most essential tasks. In this case, though, the Coast Guard is every bit a part of the same task as the border wall would be. When the wall goes up — assuming it has the impact predicted on both immigration and the drug trade — then those activities will shift to the air and the sea. There will be more need of the Coast Guard, not less.

The Free Beacon’s Natalie Johnson further reports that the Coast Guard has already been hampered by budget cuts over the last several years, even while its responsibilities expanded after the 9/11 attacks. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute points this out, along with the obvious issue of shifting the problem:

“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, even on a specific mission like border security,” he told the Free Beacon. “To the extent that you prevent the Coast Guard from protecting the seas, then you’re building a wall that can then just be sailed around.”

O’Hanlon estimated the Coast Guard’s responsibilities have risen 15 to 20 percent since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks while Congress has at the same time drastically reduced its budget. He said the White House’s intention to fund another military build-up through a $54 billion DOD budget increase that includes substantial cuts to the Coast Guard strikes him as “extraordinarily incorrect.”

Hunter explains that the Coast Guard plays a vital role of stopping illegal immigration before it even gets to the border:

Hunter, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said the proposed cuts would diminish the Coast Guard’s ability to secure the Caribbean Sea. The service is already strained in the region given that the Navy no longer maintains warship patrols in the Caribbean.

“You don’t just wait until [migrants] reach the U.S. border to stop them,” he said. “You have to work along the coasts of Central America to prevent them from reaching the border. The Coast Guard is all we have.”

Hunter voiced his opposition to the cuts earlier this month in a letter to Trump, arguing the reductions would “serve to the detriment of U.S. national security and create exposures that will most certainly be exploited by transnational criminal networks and other dangerous actors.”

The most extraordinary aspect of opposition to these cuts is its bipartisanship, even among veterans in Congress. The Washington Post reports that Hunter got nearly 60 co-signers to his letter, a rather substantial caucus of support for the Coast Guard, including several vets from both sides of the aisle, and both the chair and the ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, as noted above. That’s an influential group of Representatives who could make trouble for the appropriations bill if it sticks to the White House formula.

It won’t, though, and the White House needs to realize it. Budgets get drafted by Congress, not by the White House, so having both Carter and Roybal-Allard on the same page essentially guarantees that the Trump administration won’t get its funding through the Coast Guard. They’ll need to come up with a Plan B, and learn that the Coast Guard is off-limits in an era of heightened national-security and immigration concerns.