Bipartisan group of lawmakers say cuts would hurt cash-strapped military branch
President Donald Trump’s plan to slash the Coast Guard’s budget to help pay for the southern border wall is facing fierce opposition from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who argue the cuts would harm the cash-strapped military branch.
The White House plans to deliver its first budget proposal to Congress on Thursday, which will likely include a 14 percent reduction to the Coast Guard’s $9.1 billion budget. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle warn the cuts would not only weaken the under-resourced Coast Guard, but would also undermine the administration’s goal of strengthening the nation’s borders.
“The cuts would break them,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) told the Washington Free Beacon. “They have a number of missions that Congress has told them they have to do statutorily. We would have to make congressional changes to take away from these missions if these cuts are made.”
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.”
Nearly all of the Coast Guard’s funding comes from the Department of Homeland Security, but the service is considered the fifth branch of the U.S. military.
The anticipated cuts, which also include budget reductions to FEMA and the TSA, are intended to help fund the Trump administration’s immigration clampdown. The plan would free up federal dollars for the DHS to begin paying for the border wall, to enhance border surveillance capabilities, and to hire 5,000 more border patrol agents.
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, called the administration’s proposal “wrongheaded,” given the number of migrants who have arrived in the United States illegally by boat over the years.
“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.”
A spokeswoman for the Coast Guard declined to comment on the ongoing budget discussions.
“The Coast Guard is engaged in discussions with DHS and OMB 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,” Alana Miller, a public affairs officer with the Coast Guard, told the Free Beacon in an email.
Nearly two dozen senators sent a letter to Office of Budget and Management Director Mick Mulvaney last week urging the administration against the “devastating” $1.3 billion cuts. The bipartisan group, led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), warned the reductions would “result in catastrophic negative impacts to the Coast Guard and its critical role in protecting our homeland, our economy, and our environment.”
The OMB has not yet responded to the letter.