Home » Budget Industry » Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter Funding Frozen By Capitol Hill Budget Negotiations

Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter Funding Frozen By Capitol Hill Budget Negotiations

Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star participate in various activities on the ice about 13 miles from McMurdo Station, Antarctica on Jan. 26, 2018. US Coast Guard Photo

The U.S. Coast Guard’s funding for a polar icebreaker is set to be postponed yet again, after Congress and President Donald Trump again failed to reach an agreement on Fiscal Year 2019 funding for the Department of Homeland Security and the Senate today began work on passing another short-term continuing resolution. 

Despite multiple delays to the DHS budget – and the $750-million icebreaker request to get the shipbuilding program started this year – a Homeland Security budget expert says he is confident the Coast Guard will ultimately be able to start the icebreaker program without any lasting damage due to widespread support for the icebreaker and Arctic activities in general on Capitol Hill.

The Coast Guard’s leadership has done a great job promoting the need for a new fleet of icebreakers, now called the Polar Security Cutter, to the point there’s broad support for the program on Capitol Hill and at the White House, Mark Cancian, a senior advisor for the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told USNI News.

“The good news is there’s a bipartisan consensus that the nation needs icebreakers, and it’s in the budget, they’ve done the design work, so there’ll be icebreakers,” Cancian said. “The bad news is that, because of budget caps, they are in competition with the wall and border security.”

Unlike the other military branches that are part of the Department of Defense, which had an FY 2019 spending plan approved just before the new fiscal year started, the Coast Guard has been stuck in a holding pattern operating under a continuing resolution that simply extended 2018’s funding levels rather than approving the new requested 2019 levels.

The latest continuing resolution expires Friday; however, Senate leaders today proposed a bill that would fund the government until February. If that continuing resolution cannot be passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump by Friday, the Department of Homeland Security and other domestic agencies such as the Departments of State, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, and others would see a government shutdown in the absence of funding.

The Coast Guard had hoped to buy its first icebreaker in FY 2019, which cannot be done under a continuing resolution. Without funding for the icebreaker program now, the Coast Guard will have to continue leaning on its lone heavy icebreaker, which is quickly nearing the end of its anticipated service life. A second medium icebreaker is not meant for use in thick Arctic and Antarctic ice. If the one heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), were to suffer a serious mechanical problem, the Coast Guard has no backup, Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard Commandant, said at a recent National Press Club event.

“Diplomacy and cooperation are really hollow and shallow without presence,” Schultz said during his talk. “With only two icebreakers, the U.S. is falling behind other nations.”

The hang-up for a deal on an actual FY 2019 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security is Trump’s request for money to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, Cancian said. The Senate version of the Department of Homeland Security FY 2019 appropriation bill included only money for border security enhancements. The House version, though, included $5 billion for a border wall and paid for it by cutting funding for a variety of other DHS programs, including the icebreaker.

The problem for the Coast Guard isn’t just the wall, Cancian said, but the spending caps Congress operates under.

“Congress can’t just add money; they have to find offsets,” Cancian said.

In the meantime, the Coast Guard is restricted to operating under last year’s spending levels and barred from paying to start new programs. If Congress were to ultimately pass a year-long continuing resolution for DHS, Cancian still thinks the Coast Guard is in good shape to start building an icebreaker.

There could be some wheeling and dealing, where the Coast Guard agrees to shelve other programs and divert the money to building an icebreaker, he said. Or Congress could approve a plan to only pay for part of the $750 million cost in FY 2019, leaving the rest for following fiscal years.

The problem is if the Coast Guard budget is severely cut, then leadership will have to make some hard choices.

“If you lost top line and wanted to keep it, you’d have to gut so many other programs which would be so disruptive,” Cancian said. “It’s much easier to hold a program instead of disrupting 12.”

Ultimately, Cancian thinks the icebreaker program is in good shape with a lot of support on Capitol Hill and other government agencies. Also, he doubts $5 billion will actually be appropriated for a border wall. Homeland Security will likely be able to use some of that money the House put into a wall budget for other programs.

“I think there’s a good chance (the icebreaker) will get funded in whatever compromise comes out on the domestic side of the budget,” Cancian said. “The chances are good, but very good in the long term because Congress is concerned about the opening up of the Arctic.”

  • Marc Apter

    So the trade-off is the new Ice Breaker or the Trump Wall!

    • Curtis Conway

      Deferred future entitlement growth would pay for the wall all by itself. We will end up supporting more illegals, and continue to support those already here, which is about 20 million.

      • Marc Apter

        Name these entitlements!

        • Curtis Conway

          There was a Congressman who hollered out “You Lie” during a State of the Union address by BHO. Do you remember the subject? Illegals will not receive health care benefits in the US. The Congressman was more right than wrong. BHO was standing on the letter of ‘no illegals covered by ACA’, and of course that was narrowly defined. How many examples do you need?

          I know of a person who works in Admissions of a County Hospital in a specific area near DFW and their clientele is almost solely illegals, undocumented, can’t speak English, and the waiting room is full 24/7.

          More than one state issue drivers licence to illegals. That unlocks many things to them. If you do the most cursory search for Illegals get entitlements, or public benefits for immigrants, you will be shocked at how much treasure goes into that category, and it pays for the wall 10 X over!

          • Duane

            States are free to do whatever they want with respect to paying benefits to undocumented residents. However Federal welfare as well as entitlement programs do not pay any benefits to undocumented recipients.

          • Marc Apter

            So, what entitlement cuts will pay for the wall, as Duane mentioned?

          • Curtis Conway

            If you want to put a fine point on the pencil of what money and who/where does it come from, and to whom it goes, some can clearly show where the states pay for most of this. However, your and my taxes come out of OUR budgets/pockets every year regardless of destination (state/fed). If a national/federal policy, or lack there of, affects your local or state taxes, then the fed owns a piece of this equation too. If you make sooooo much (like those in DC now) that it no longer hurts, or bothers you, then you need not be in this discussion, for many are NOT that blessed.

            Just incarceration, adjudication (court & law enforcement) time and resources (not to mention those dying trying to do there job) is also a piece of this equation. To say that it is a State Problem, due to a ‘federal lack of attention to detail’ is VERY MUCH something the electorate should pay attention too. The very fact that federal [legislative] authorities can sluff this off to the states because they (federal legislators) believe ‘the states will take up the slack’ is starting to catch up with those federal authorities. Obama Care, and this ‘not being able to follow/enforce the law concerning immigration (or anything else), and no one has the stomach to change it, has got to come to a head . . . and it is!

    • NavySubNuke

      Or we could ramp up deportations and crack down on medicare/medicaid/SSID fraud and use the money saved from entitlement programs for both.

      • Duane

        You must realize that undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes into Social Security and Medicare but can never collect benefits from either unless/until they become US citizens. Kicking all of the “illegals” out of the country would immediately bankrupt both SS and Medicare.

        • NavySubNuke

          Those who have stolen identities and are working illegally using a different person’s SSN do — but those who work only under the table not so much.
          “immediately bankrupt” is a bit strong there killer. Heavy smokers also work their whole lives and pay into SS and Medicare without drawing benefits in most cases since they don’t live long enough and the drop in smoking rates hasn’t bankrupted SS and Medicare.

          • Duane

            The trust funds are already near bankrupt. Today SS outlays already exceed income, and total insolvency is projected today, without any changes to any thing including undocumented worker tax receipts, by no later than 2034.

            Medicare today is projected to hit insolvency by no later than 2026 – just seven years from now.

            Without major tax increases or benefit cuts neither trust fund will be able to pay out scheduled benefits in but a few years. Suddenly removing millions of current taxpayers from the tax rolls could result in immediate insolvency for Medicare, and push Social Security insolvency to just a few years from now.

          • NavySubNuke

            I’m happy to have benefit cuts for the boomers — they’ve certainly earned it for the way they short delightedly squandered away not only their own personal fortunes but the fortunes of this country. The sooner they die out the better for those of us who have to pick up the mess they are leaving behind.

          • Curtis Conway

            Consumed the ‘Peace Dividend’ they did, and some.

          • Murray

            Benefit cuts for nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines – that’s unique!
            If you are talking about baby boomers, that was the generation that was drafted (excluding those with bone heel spurs), fought and died in Vietnam.

          • NavySubNuke

            Wow every boomer without bone spurs was drafted, faught, and died in Vietnam? Fascinating….

          • Murray

            I said “that was the generation that was drafted and fought”. I didn’t say everyone from that generation was drafted and fought. Not everyone from the previous generation fought in WWII or Korea either.

          • NavySubNuke

            Still it is amazing that the only deferment was for bone spurs in the heel. No wonder their generation mismanaged everything and dragged this country to the brink of financial ruin with their selfishness.
            I mean we are talking about the generation that created participation trophies to give to their kids because they were such a disappointment to their own parents.

          • Curtis Conway

            The SS Trust Fund was raided decades ago, and the SS Lock Box (when opened) contains ONLY an IOU from the fed.

        • muzzleloader

          Kicking illegals out would bankrupt SS and Medicare?
          The cost to the nation of taking in illegals has been $134 Billion.

    • Duane

      No. The Trump wall will never be funded or built, ever. Not even Republicans in Congress want the wall. It is and always was just a political scam by Trump to please his political supporters. The Congress will never approve funding for it, period.

      The fact that the politicians cannot come up with final funding bills for FY-2019 is mainly due to cowardice by Republicans who don’t want to be blamed for denying Trump’s base voters their silly wall, so they just keep kicking the can down the road, where the can will spend the rest of its days until someone finally crushes it.

      • muzzleloader

        Silly wall? Tell that to the Israelis.
        They had 12,500 illegal border crossings in 2012 before they put up thier wall in 2013. That year they had less than three dozen
        There were 11 illegal crossings in 2016, and 0 in 2017.
        Walls work, which is exactly why the establishment types don’t want it.

  • OddMan

    These new Coast Guard Heavy Icebreakers are going to be darned expensive. Breaking Defense said in an article that it could cost almost $1 Billion for the first one. “NAS thought the $1 billion cost estimate for the first heavy icebreaker was pretty solid. They estimated $983 million for the first heavy, falling to $692 for a fourth, for an average of $791 million.”

    So to pick a number like $5 Billion (the wall) we could have 6 new heavy icebreakers and some change.
    We need those Icebreakers a heck of a lot more than that wall.

    • DaSaint


    • old guy

      Finland has worked with the Russkies on a new, nuclear powered breaker about twice the displacement of the C.G. design. Anyone know the details?

    • old guy

      The cost estimate is screwy. Using Non Combat standards, the cost should be between 300 and 350 million, in a NO CHANGES allowed firm fixed price buy of 4 ships.. We could check the Finns for their greater displacemnt Nuc and non Nuc ships. What the heck happened to initiative?

  • Michael Lopez

    The Heavy Icebreaker is desperately needed.

  • Ed L

    Professional politicians are ruining America

    • NavySubNuke

      My worry is that if we implement term limits they will just steal more money faster. Someone like Reid who came to congress with a relatively minor fortune but the knowledge that he would stay there for decades is a great example – he simply enriched himself slowly over many years rather than doing it quickly.

  • seamarshal

    The issue is NOT the wall against the ice breakers. The issue is, and has always been, why is the CG stuck in another department besides the DOD? We are either a military organization or not. So why keep sticking the CG in something else. The Commandant has to get the lead out make this change or it will never happen. Just 39 years of experience in the CG and another 12 in the CG Auxiliary speaking. Anyone want to question this go ahead!!!!

    • Murray

      Agree entirely. While there was some justification for including the USCG in the DHS after 9/11 times have moved on. The USCG has previously been under Treasury control but there is also no justification for putting it back there. Logically as a naval force it should be under DOD control and funded accordingly.

      • Curtis Conway

        I would keep them ‘Law Enforcement’ except during times of war, and use that leverage Internationally to use that common goal with all our Bilateral agreement signatories. If we grow the US Coast Guard just a bit, particularly the National Security Cutter & Offshore Patrol Cutter (when available) forces, and the Polar Security Cutters, then we can maintain Presence (Show-the-Flag) in more areas, with the good will of the local government, and maintain access to the area.

    • Old Coasty

      Then you know that to do law enforcement, by law we can not be full time military. An armed force that goes under the Navy, in time of war or by Presidential emergency order, as a dependent corps is good enough. That is why the Navy owns all of the weapon systems and strategic systems with in the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard and previous parts survived over 230 years without being a full time military force.

    • Curtis Conway

      The US Coast Guard is Law Enforcement in the national/international realm for a reason, until mobilized during times of war.