Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are joining a bipartisan group of 23 senators urging Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney not to make a devastating $1.3 billion cut to the budget of the United States Coast Guard. According to reports, the FY 2018 Presidential Budget Request will suggest a wholesale cut amounting to almost 12 percent of the service’s budget. The money from the Coast Guard could reportedly be diverted to help pay for a border wall.
“We are concerned that the Coast Guard would not be able to maintain maritime presence, respond to individual and national emergencies, and protect our nation’s economic and environmental interests. The proposed reduction … would directly contradict the priorities articulated by the Trump Administration,” wrote the Senators. “We urge you to restore the $1.3 billion cut to the Coast Guard budget, which we firmly believe would result in catastrophic negative impacts to the Coast Guard and its critical role in protecting our homeland, our economy and our environment.”
Merkley and Wyden have repeatedly fought to protect Oregon’s Coast Guard resources, which are essential to Oregon’s security and to saving lives in the frigid water off the Oregon coast. In 2014, budget reductions threatened to cut the Coast Guard helicopter stationed along the central coast in Newport. With the next-closest helicopters an hour away or more — time that can make the difference between life and death for commercial fishermen and others who rely on the Coast Guard’s services on the central coast — the loss of the Newport helicopter would have had deadly consequences for Oregonians.
Merkley and Wyden, along with Congressman Kurt Schrader (OR-5), successfully worked in Congress to pass legislation protecting the Newport helicopter, and other Coast Guard helicopters like it, but a fresh round of deep budget cuts could have devastating impacts in communities across the Oregon coast and the nation.
Among many other accomplishments and missions, the men and women of the Coast Guard:
· Seized a record 469,270 pounds of illegal drugs in 2016.
· Maintained active and vigorous anti-terrorism and national security operations around our nation’s oceans, rivers, and ports through the Maritime Safety and Security Team and Maritime Security Response Team.
· Protected American ships, boundaries, and interests in the melting Arctic, where the U.S. is already behind and Russian and Chinese influence is expanding at an unprecedented rate.
The Senators note that Coast Guard funding has already been allowed to slip well below the levels necessary to fulfill its mission and maintain its equipment and infrastructure. Between 2010 and 2015, the service’s acquisition budget fell by some 40 percent. The fleet of cutters and patrol boats that intercept drugs and guard our nation’s waterways are aging at an unsustainable rate, with no prospect of replacement. The situation is particularly dire in the arctic, where without adequate funding the U.S. will be without a heavy icebreaker for eight years — the only arctic nation without the resource.
The budget cut will also have a dramatic effect on Coast Guard members and their families. The Coast Guard has struggled to keep pace with the other Armed Services when it comes to family and support services such as education and training, childcare, and on-base support facilities such as commissaries and housing. Coast Guard families in rural areas often do not have adequate health care access and investments in family support services nationwide have been far below acceptable levels.
In addition to Merkley and Wyden, the letter was signed by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).