- A draft spending bill leaves out $750 million for icebreaker
- Amendment to put cash in expected to be offered in committee
The future of the U.S. Coast Guard’s mission in the Arctic could be in jeopardy, as a draft House spending measure approved today wouldn’t fund a new polar icebreaker that had received backing from President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration requested $750 million for a new heavy polar icebreaker vessel in fiscal 2019. The first vessel is projected to cost about $1 billion, while the entire program would cost as much as $9.8 billion over its lifetime for three heavy polar icebreakers, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee today approved the 2019 spending measure for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Coast Guard. The measure leaves out funding for the icebreaker after Republicans reduced spending in the bill to find money to cover a funding gap in a veterans’ program and allocate $5 billion for a border wall also sought by Trump.
Much rests on the U.S. ability to send a new icebreaker to the resources-rich high latitudes, ship backers say. The proposed ship, which would be able to cut through 21-foot-thick ice, is becoming a symbol of American power in the Arctic in the absence of a clear national strategy to defend U.S. interests there. Without a new icebreaker, proponents say, the U.S. risks being caught empty-handed in a region where Russia has expanded its reach and rebuilt a military arsenal, even as the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated.
The Appropriation subcommittee’s Democrats and the avy League of the United States raised alarm about the lack of icebreaker funding, a program that has been ignored for decades.
“There are many other priorities in this bill and in others that we should be using this funding to support,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said today. “What comes first to mind is $750 million for a heavy polar icebreaker for the Coast Guard. This funding was requested by the administration but is not funded in the bill.”
“On behalf of the Navy League’s 40,000 members, I write in alarm and concern over the stripping of the president’s requested funds for the polar heavy icebreaker,” Alan Kaplan, the Navy League’s president wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Increased activity in the Arctic means we need a strong American presence.”
“It is disconcerting that these funds have been stripped. This program cannot be delayed any longer; timing is crucial to ensure America isn’t left helpless in the Arctic,” he said.
The full House Appropriations Committee could consider an amendment to restore the icebreaker funds when it takes up the measure but whether it would be successful is unclear, said committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing. The House can also consider an amendment when the bill comes to the floor.
Interest in the $1 billion vessel among the shipbuilding industry is high. On March 2, the Coast Guard together with the Navy issued a request for proposals for the design of new icebreakers and a single contract will be awarded in 2019. Contenders include Bollinger Shipyards, Fincantieri Marine Group, General Dynamics Corp.’s National Steel and Shipbuilding Co., Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. and VT Halter Marine.
Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington also contributed to this story.
To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org