Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fidley Watch: Gamesmanship

The US Coast Guard responded to 20,510 search and rescue cases and saved more than 3,800 lives last year, according to the written testimony of US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp Jr. addressing the 2013 budget. The Coast Guard also seized more than 75 metric tons of cocaine and 18 metric tons of marijuana destined for the United States; seized 40 vessels, detained 191 suspected smugglers; conducted over 10,400 annual inspections of US-flagged vessels; conducted 6,200 marine casualty investigations; conducted more than 9,000 Port State Control and Security examinations on foreign flagged vessels; and responded to 3,000 pollution incidents.
Admiral Papp also mentioned the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy and her crew that broke their way through 800 miles of Bering Sea ice to enable the motor vessel Renda to deliver 1.3 million gallons of fuel to the 3,600 people of Nome, Alaska.

The men and women of the US Coast Guard work hard to keep the country’s navigable waters safe for merchant sailors, fishermen and pleasure boaters, and this magazine applauds them and the work they do. We’re worried that the Coast Guard’s already tight 2013 budget is threatened by partisan bickering in Washington DC.

Last August Congress passed the Budget Control Act as a last-resort measure to avert a fiscal crisis due in part to the Senate’s failure to pass a budget. The act requires that Congress begin $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, known as a sequester, to be divided between defense and domestic spending, in January 2013. Although defense spending makes up less than 20 percent of the Federal budget, national defense will suffer 50 percent of the cuts. If the sequester goes into effect, it will mean a 7.8 percent reduction in the budget of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the US Coast Guard. Congress has five months to come up with an alternative deficit-reduction package.

While Congress is legally required to consider a budget resolution every year, there’s no penalty for not doing it. As a result, the senate hasn’t proposed a budget in more than three years.

Meanwhile, the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire on December 31st. The President’s budget for 2013 proposed extending tax breaks only for people with incomes of less than $250,000, while most Republicans want the cuts to remain in place across the board. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the issue could be averted if Republicans will agree to a deficit reduction package that includes additional taxes. “It can be avoided. It’s all up to Republicans,” he says. “All they have to do is give some revenues.”

In support of Harry Reid, Washington Senator Patty Murray is willing to let the sequestration cuts occur (and the Bush-era tax rates to expire) if Republicans refuse to raise taxes on upper-income earners. “Unless Republicans end their commitment to protecting the rich above all else, our country is going to have to face the consequences of Republican intransigence,” Murray said in a speech late last month.

Gamesmanship is part of politics – a necessary evil, if you will – but it should stop short of threatening the security of the country.

Patty Murray has been a good friend to Washington’s maritime industry, as well as an outspoken advocate for maritime and port security and national defense. She is also a firmly entrenched Democrat Senator from a liberal state, and her position in Congress is certainly secure for the foreseeable future – she’ll most likely have plenty of time to pursue her own goals. While she may feel she owes her allegiance to the Democrats in the Senate and their leader Harry Reid, her constituents are Washington State residents: commercial mariners served by the Coast Guard, the shipyards and equipment suppliers who build, repair and maintain Coast Guard vessels, and the taxpayers who will ultimately be on the hook for any monies spent by Congress. Doesn’t she owe her allegiance to them, as well as her Democrat colleagues in Congress? Senator Murray needs to hear from her constituents in the maritime industry, telling her that the country’s safety isn’t something to be used as a poker chip.

Senator Patty Murray can be reached at (202) 224-2621 or senator@murray.senate.gov.
Chris PhilipsManaging Editor