U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, took to the Senate floor today to urge the passage of the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2018, a bill that authorizes a $2 billion funding increase for the Coast Guard.
The measure, set for final passage in the Senate tomorrow, will ensure the Coast Guard has the resources it needs to carry out crucial lifesaving, disaster response, drug interdiction and national security missions.
Coast Guard ships, planes and helicopters were used to help rescue and provide assistance to hundreds of storm victims in the Florida Panhandle following Hurricane Michael.
Sen. Nelson is a leading co-sponsor of the bill.
A link to his speech can be found here, and a rush transcript can be found below.
Sen. Nelson: Thank you, Mr. President. Well, we finally have the coast guard bill here. Mr. President, I want to urge our colleagues to support the passage of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018. We’ve been working on and passing through committee, then in intensive discussions with the House, and finally the final product is here.
Mr. President, Coast Guard personnel live by the motto of “always ready.” And just last month I saw firsthand how Coast Guard efforts in protecting life and property followed Hurricane Michael up in the Panhandle of Florida. Coast guard ships, planes, and helicopters came from across the country to help hundreds of people on the Florida coastline and inland, and the Coast Guard, as always, was there to assist. Always ready, their motto.
In Panama City, the shallow water response teams provided food, water, and oxygen and ensured the relocation of over 130 nursing home residents, 35 of which were bedridden, and they saw them to safety and medical care in as far away as Pensacola. The Coast Guard also conducted damage assessments to facilitate the reopening of the Florida waterways and ports. And this isn’t something new.
The Coast Guard provided similar efforts to Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico following hurricanes Irma and Maria last fall. If there is a disaster, aside from the federal agency that is tasked with providing for that disaster — FEMA — you can bet your boots that the Coast Guard is going to be there.
During just five weeks of the 2017 hurricane season a year ago, the Coast Guard saved over 11,000 people and more than 1,000 pets and mobilized nearly 3,000 personnel. For Hurricane Maria alone a year ago, the Coast Guard deployed over 500 personnel with seven helicopters, 17 planes, and 14 cutters. And you know the devastation that Hurricane Maria did on the island of Puerto Rico. On behalf of Floridians, I want to thank the Coast Guard for their hurricane response and their invaluable assistance provided to storm victims.
We owe the Coast Guard our gratitude for its readiness and its service to the nation. And what mariner does not know that when they’re out in their fishing boat and they get stranded out in the ocean, who are they so happily contacting but the Coast Guard for rescue?
Now the Coast Guard does much more than just saving lives. It also serves as a first line of defense against cartels and smugglers who seek to flood the United States with illegal drugs. Last year, for instance, was a banner year for the Coast Guard drug enforcement. They prevented over 200 metric tons of cocaine valued at over $6 million, prevented it from entering the U.S.
In Florida, the Coast Guard cutter mohawk, home ported in Key West, confiscated over seven tons of cocaine in August. A month later the Coast Guard cutter Tahoma offloaded six tons of cocaine at Port Everglades. And just last month the Miami-based Coast Guard cutter, Bernard C. Webber, it confiscated over 3,500 pounds of cocaine and 50 pounds of marijuana.
The bottom line is the Coast Guard is an adaptable, responsible, responsive military force that maintains a persistent and comforting presence along our rivers and our ports, on our coastal waters and on the high seas.
Mr. President, I’ve had the privilege of the spending great deal of time with the Coast Guard. I’ve gone in their helicopters, chasing down, go fast, showing me in a simulated chase of how they would shoot out the engines from the open door of the Coast Guard helicopter. I’ve also done that chase in the high-speed Coast Guard getting off the cutters into the go-fast. Go-fast that can turn on a dime, that even the speediest boats at the end of the day the Coast Guard is going to catch them. And if they can’t catch them with the go-fast small boats, they’ll catch them with the air. I’ve been with the Coast Guard up in Alaska where the Navy has pretty well ceded the protection of the seas up in Alaska and off to the arctic to the Coast Guard. And we have a substantial fishing fleet up there. And of course who do they rely on when they get into trouble? And that’s why we have a substantial presence of the Coast Guard in Alaska.
And the bottom line is that the Coast Guard is this incredible force. It is especially present in the state of Florida since we have so much coastline. Nearly 40% of all the Coast Guard personnel are in and around the state of Florida, and down in Key West is the joint task force center maintained by all agencies of the federal government, tracking the movements of the drug smugglers.
And if we just had more assets in the Caribbean and the Pacific, we’d be able to pick up a lot more of the drugs trying to enter and poison our children in the United States. And so we should do everything that we can to support the Coast Guard’s work, and that’s why we’re here today.
The bipartisan bill before us will reauthorize the Coast Guard for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. It authorizes $2 billion funding increase for the Coast Guard through fiscal year 2019. This includes new money to help the Coast Guard continue modernizing its aging fleet of cutters and aircraft. A good part of the Coast Guard’s new modernization of their fleet, the new offshore patrol cutters, it’s being built by a shipbuilder in Florida.
This legislation will also better enable the Coast Guard to execute its missions, provide adequate resources and training to meet operational demands and support service members and their dependents. You should see these Coast Guard bases around the country.
Even on the Great Lakes, just think there are mariners on the great Lakes. There’s a great deal of commercial shipping on the great Lakes. And as a result, we have substantial Coast Guard presence and Coast Guard bases on the Great Lakes.
This is a good bill, and we can be proud of it. Passing it will ensure the Coast Guard has the tools it needs to continue to carry out its many important missions, including its lifesaving and disaster response roles that so many Americans have come to rely when they call they know they can depend on the coast guard. Mr. President, I urge our colleagues to support this motion for cloture and then tomorrow to support the final passage of the bill.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.