- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2017

President Trump’s pledge Tuesday night in an address to Congress to rebuild the military did not include the armed services’ fifth branch — the U.S. Coast Guard.

In fact, some of the $54 billion in added Defense Department spending for the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps is being stripped from the Coast Guard’s budget.

“It’s nonsensical to pursue a policy of rebuilding the armed forces while proposing large reductions to the U.S. Coast Guard budget,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, said Thursday in a letter to the president.

Guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget calls for cutting $1.3 billion from the Coast Guard’s $10 billion fiscal 2017 budget.

The cut comes at a time when some in Congress, led by Mr. Hunter, are calling for increased spending as Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues a military buildup in the Arctic. Mr. Putin is reopening air bases and deploying ground groups, complemented by nearly 40 icebreakers. The Coast Guard deploys just two. Its last “heavy” icebreaker was launched in the 1970s.

Mr. Hunter told Mr. Trump that the budget reduction would leave the nation less safe.

“Such a drastic reduction in Coast Guard funding would not only diminish the Coast Guard’s standing and mission next to its service counterparts, it would severely undermine U.S. national security,” Mr. Hunter wrote. “These proposed cuts, should they proceed, will guarantee negative consequences. Undoubtedly, America would be less safe based on the suggested recommendations of career bureaucrats positioned within OMB.”

Worse, Mr. Hunter said, is that OMB calls for canceling $500 million for a new National Security Cutter. The cutter, built by Ingalls Shipbuilding, is the Coast Guard’s largest ship critical to its rescue and intervention roles.

The procurement program has run behind schedule. The national security cutters typically operate in rough seas, exposing the hulls to constant stress.

“The termination of this contract is especially disconcerting when considered alongside the operational successes these assets have demonstrated, not to mention the hundreds of high-paying American jobs that would be lost,” Mr. Hunter said.

“Given the Coast Guard’s unique role, it is even more imperative that any considerations for additional funding for the U.S. military and border security do not overlook the significant and critical needs of the Coast Guard,” said Mr. Hunter, who is chairman of the House subcommittee on the Coast Guard.

The Washington Times reported Feb. 19 about the icebreaker gap between the U.S. and Russia, noting that the post-Cold War Arctic has ranked low in U.S. military priorities. The region’s responsibility falls to U.S. Northern Command, with headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Coast Guard is preparing to build its first new breaker in over 40 years, with money and expertise from the Navy.

“Russia is working overtime to strengthen its Arctic presence while the U.S. is acting like a bystander and a nation without any similar strategic interests,” Mr. Hunter told The Times. “With new icebreaking capability, we can exponentially strengthen our presence and guarantee year-round access for reasons of national security, commerce and research.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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