Sen. Nelson’s remarks on proposed budget cuts

Mar 8 • 300 Views • View Comments

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Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor today to voice his concerns over reports that the Administration is planning severe budget cuts to three federal agencies including: $1.3 billion from the U.S. Coast Guard, $900 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $500 million from the Transportation Security Administration. 

“That plan just doesn’t make any sense,” Nelson said, “especially when it comes to securing our borders. You’d be putting a bunch of money in a wall, but you’re losing the security of the border over here on the oceans.”

Following is a rush transcript of Nelson’s remarks and here’s a link to watch video of his speech: https://youtu.be/AMermCRPs5Y.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
March 8, 2017

Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I rise today to express serious concern about reports in the press that the administration is considering deep cuts in funding to crucial aspects of our nation’s national security and our homeland security to pay for the construction of a border wall and also for a crackdown on illegal immigration.

And the first target that alarmed me is America’s maritime guardian, the U.S. Coast Guard. Even as the administration says it plans to secure the borders and increase funding for our military by $54 billion, which, in fact, may be a good thing, it’s reportedly considering cuts on the non-defense side but that includes the Department of Homeland Security, a cut of $1.3 billion, or 12%, to the very military service that secures our vast maritime borders — and that’s the Coast Guard.

That plan just doesn’t make any sense especially when it comes to securing our borders. You’d be putting a bunch of money in a wall, but you’re losing the security of the border over here on the oceans.

The 42,000 member-strong Coast Guard plays a vital role in the protecting our nation from narcoterrorism, from combating human smuggling, from preventing and responding to maritime environmental disasters, as well as protecting living and property at sea, and, oh, by the way, in other foreign parts of the globe, the U.S. Coast Guard is assisting the U.S. Military in our military operations.

Back to border security, if securing our borders and supporting our military is a true priority for the administration, then it ought not be slashing the Coast Guard’s budget. Instead, we should be supporting the Coast Guard’s ongoing and much-needed fleet recapitalization program, including the design and construction of the new of the new offshore patrol cutter and the continued production of the new, fast response cutter. These are desperately needed assets for the Coast Guard.

This senator has personally visited dozens of Coast Guard units all around, not just in my state of Florida, but in Alaska, the Great Lakes. It’s just amazing the job that the Coast Guard does and what I have witnessed firsthand is what they do in the service to our country. The constant theme of my visits is the need — and what I learned from those visits is the need to modernize and increasingly become nimble given the host of threats that could be delivered from our maritime borders.

Now let me give you just one example: the Caribbean. It is a Coast Guard admiral that heads up the task force that has all agencies of government participating as we look to protect the southern borders in the Caribbean as well as the southern Pacific from anything that’s coming to our borders — drugs, migrants, terrorists, whatever. Often this is — since it’s all agencies involved, but if, for example, there are U.S. Navy ships in the area or Air Force assets in the air that might pick up one of these threats coming toward America, they were hand in glove with the Coast Guard because it is the Coast Guard that has the legal authority as a law enforcement agency to stop, apprehend, and board that vessel.

And, yet, we are doing all of this border protection with cutters that have an average age of 45 years old. The average age of a Coast Guard’s 210-foot medium-endurance cutter is 48 years old. The Coast Guard high endurance cutter average age: 45 years. These are just two classes of ships that the Coast Guard uses for interdiction and rescue missions and they do it worldwide.

And, as you may expect, with assets this old, the Coast Guard struggles with major mission debilitating casualties which result in severe losses of operational days at sea and drastically increased maintenance costs.

To correct that, the new offshore patrol cutters and the fast response cutters will give the Coast Guard an effective coastal and offshore interdiction capability in order to meet the objectives. What are they? Combating transnational organized crime networks, securing our national maritime borders, safeguarding water-borne commerce and safeguarding life and property at sea.

Now, look at the administration’s second target to pay for the wall, what’s the second target? Believe it or not, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Well, if you’re singling out that agency that comes to the aid of millions of Americans during any kind of natural disaster, single that out for cuts? That doesn’t make common sense and it’s certainly not going to be a popular thing to do in the eyes of those who have to turn to FEMA after a natural disaster to try to get their lives back on track.

Last year — just take one year — two major hurricanes hit Florida in addition to many other devastating natural disasters that struck nationwide and resulted in many deaths and billions in damage. FEMA was critical to people’s survival and recovery in each of these events. Just think of what we hear on the news all the time, storms, tornadoes, earthquakes. You remember the mountain that erupted out in the state of Washington decades ago, not to speak of hurricanes.

For the sake of people’s safety and that of our country, we simply cannot use FEMA as a piggy bank to pay for the administration’s trillion dollar spending programs.

The administration’s third target — this has just been reported. What’s the third target? You’re not going to believe this. It’s TSA, the Transportation Security Administration.

Now, if you target TSA for budget cuts, is that really what you want to do with a threat environment every time we’re going through the airport. TSA is on the front lines of protecting our country from terrorist attacks and that’s its security mission at airports across the country. And, oh, by the way, air marshals that fly on our flights.

Need I remind the administration why TSA was created? It was after the September the 11th attacks in 2001, a funding is vital to ensure the success of TSA’s mission.

In fact, just last year Congress responded to concerns over insider threats and security at airports like the bombings in Brussels and Istanbul with the most extensive security measures in years. And specifically what we did particularly in the Commerce Committee when we formulated the FAA bill, we included bipartisan provisions enhancing the background and vetting requirements for airport employees and expanding the random and physical inspection of airport employees in secure areas.

Remember the case of the Atlanta airport? For several months people had a gun-running scheme coming from Atlanta to New York. They didn’t drive up Interstate 95 to take the guns. They had an airport employee in Atlanta who could get into the airport without being checked carrying a sack of guns, that airport employee would go up into the sterile area where passengers are, go into the men’s room, would exchange knapsacks with a passenger and TSA clean and that passenger took the sack of guns on the airplane flight from Atlanta to new York and the New York city police department couldn’t figure out how they were getting all those guns on the street in New York. That was a gun-running scheme over several months. Thank goodness they were criminals, not terrorists. You want to cut that kind of security?

If you want to cut the strongest security that we have at an airport screening passengers going through, it’s the nose of a dog, the VIPR teams, the dog teams, the most efficient way to screen passengers is a dog team that has been trained with his handler. It’s amazing what those dogs can sense. And so when we did the FAA bill last year, we doubled the number of VIPR teams, the dog teams. And we want to cut this? That was all done in a bipartisan manner.

We doubled the number for the protection of the American public, and we also, in that bill, granted expanded the grant funding to assist law enforcement in responding to mass casualty and active shooter instance which is very important in, for example, again, another tragic example of the recent shooting in Fort Lauderdale at the airport. To counter the issue of long lines, which I know we had to all go through last spring, the legislation included provisions require TSA pre-check and to require TSA to evaluate staffing and checkpoint configurations to expedite passenger security screening.

Does that sound like a lot of administrative mumbo jumbo? Perhaps, but let me tell you it works, and all is designed to protect Americans going to airports and getting on airplanes.

Now, none of this is possible without continued funding, and, in fact, even more funding. Any cuts are certainly going to impair TSA’s ability to keep our country safe.

So the bottom line here is that we must do whatever’s necessary to keep our country safe and our citizens secure. Slashing the budgets of the U.S. Coast Guard or FEMA or TSA is only going to make us less secure. Need I say any more about these proposals to pay for some of these other things like a wall by slashing these kind of budgets?

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

 

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