Coast Guard Legislationby Senator Bill Nelson
Posted on 2015-12-16
NELSON. Mr. President, I want to take advantage of this
opportunity to also share with the Senate that we have a very important
Coast Guard bill on which we are going to try to get unanimous consent
so that we can send it on to the House. There are parts that have been
controversial and those parts generally have been worked out. There are
one or two others.
This Senator thinks the American people--unless they get in trouble out on the high seas--don't really have an understanding of what a professional military organization the U.S. Coast Guard is. We have the Coast Guard participating with our Defense Department over in the war zones--the area of responsibility over in Central Command. We have the Coast Guard basically doing the job for the U.S. Navy in the waters off of Alaska. We have a Coast Guard that is patrolling the waters off of the continental United States, as well as the island State of Hawaii. The Coast Guard is always there when Americans get in trouble, and indeed when mariners who are not Americans get into trouble. The Coast Guard is an incredible professional organization that is doing the job.
Down in the waters off of my State of Florida, the Coast Guard does this incredible job working with the U.S. Navy on the interdiction of drugs. When the drug smugglers have to be interdicted, the Navy, if they are tracking them, hands that over to the Coast Guard because the Coast Guard, in fact, has the law enforcement capability to go in and take down the smugglers.
The Coast Guard can shoot the motors out of these go-fast boats to interdict smugglers--even going after submerged vehicles--to stop them. The Coast Guard does that from not only their boats but also from the air. The Coast Guard stands tall. We in the Congress now need to stand tall for the Coast Guard.
Earlier this month the majority leader offered a unanimous consent to discharge from the Senate commerce committee and pass the Coast Guard Authorization Act, giving the Coast Guard the resources it needs to carry out its mission. It cannot be overstated.
It is a small, very agile service of 42,000 Active-Duty members. It plays a vital role in protecting the Nation from narcoterrorism, human smuggling, environmental disasters, and from the loss of life and property at sea.
So what is in this bill? It is the result of several months of negotiations between the House and the Senate. The chairman of our Senate commerce committee, John Thune, and I, as the ranking member of the commerce committee, have worked with our colleagues to craft a bill that will authorize a total of $9.1 billion in each of the fiscal years 2016 and 2017. It is a $380 million per year increase over the amount authorized last year, and it enhances the Coast Guard and its capability to do a number of the things that I have listed, which include cracking down on the drug trade and the destruction of evidence, including the destruction of illegal drugs. It enhances the Coast Guard capabilities to stop the smuggling of drug money across our maritime borders. The Coast Guard's Western Hemisphere strategy is to combat the criminal networks, secure the borders, and safeguard American commerce. So to meet all that, this legislation's increased funding is going to support the Coast Guard's ongoing fleet recapitalization program, including the design and construction of a new offshore patrol cutter and continued production of a fast response cutter.
I have ridden in these fast response cutters. I have ridden in the go-fast boats as they simulated a drug smuggler that was trying to avoid us. This boat can do the hairpin turns and the sudden 180-degree turns at top speed, and that is how these guys can't get away. If for some reason they were not able to interdict them at sea, we have them from the air.
I have watched the Coast Guard sharpshooters blow out the motors on a go-fast drug smuggling boat. But we have to recapitalize a lot of these old boats. The average age of a Coast Guard high endurance cutter is 45 years old. The average age of the Coast Guard's 210-foot medium endurance cutter is 48 years old. These are two of the primary ships that are used for interdiction and rescue worldwide. So new offshore patrol cutters, fast response cutters, will give our Coast Guard an effective coastal and offshore interdiction capability in order to meet its objectives.
You think of the Coast Guard off the coast. They are in Washington. I am not talking about the ones onshore. They are out there protecting national security assets in and around the Potomac and the Anacostia Rivers.
In addition to this recapitalization, the bill allows the Coast Guard to begin updating its fleet of polar icebreakers, allowing the service to pay an estimated $1 billion needed for the acquisition of a new state-of-the-art heavy polar icebreaker. Why do we need that? Have you noticed recently what the Chinese have been doing in the Arctic? Especially, have you noticed what the Russians are doing in the Arctic? Have you noticed that the Russians have 19 icebreakers and we have just a few? Have you noticed that China is funding and building icebreakers for the Arctic? Part of our icebreakers, the Polar Star and the Healy were built in the 1970s and 1990s. The Polar Star is now well beyond its intended 30- year service life. It is vital that we enable the Coast Guard to begin bringing these new vessels online to support the Coast Guard's Arctic strategy and cooperative maritime strategy and to meet the President's stated intent for increased American presence and capabilities in the Arctic.
I went with the Coast Guard to Alaska. As I said a moment ago, the Navy has really ceded the Alaskan waters to the Coast Guard to protect maritime shipping--a huge fishing fleet up there. But also on the North Slope of Alaska, which is the beginning of those Arctic waters, there is a lot of activity up there--not only fishing but exploring for oil. At times of the year when it is totally incapable of a seaworthy vessel to crack the ice, you have to have an icebreaker to do it. The Russians have 19. They are getting very aggressive in the Arctic. Just ask the Prime Minister of Norway, with all of his teams, how concerned they are with what the former Soviets are doing up in the Arctic. Thus, this bill enhances and speeds up our capability of getting another icebreaker--a modernized icebreaker.
So this legislation is also going to provide the Coast Guard parity with our Department of Defense sister services with respect to personnel policies such as parental leave and eligibility for combat- related special compensation. If they are out there on the frontlines, they should have parity with our sister men and women in uniform.
This legislation will ensure that the Coast Guard is properly equipped to protect our national and homeland security interests in our ports, on our coastal and inland waters, such as Washington, and on the high seas around the world.
This Senator believes that we will be able to do this by unanimous consent, if we work through a few more things. So I urge our colleagues in the Senate: Let's get this up and get it passed before the Christmas recess so the House will have it the first part of next year so we can get on about the process of getting this bill authorized, completed, and sent down to the President for signature into law.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Scott). The Senator from Pennsylvania.
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