House funding bill scraps Arctic icebreaker program

The Homeland Security funding bill that includes the $5 billion requested by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE for his proposed border wall would scrap a program to expand the U.S. icebreaker presence in the Arctic.
 
The Senate version of the funding bill and an earlier version passed by the House Appropriations Committee both include $750 million for the program, but the current House version of the funding bill does not include money for the icebreaker program.
 
Some lawmakers have blasted the funding being stripped out of the House bill, which includes the full amount requested by Trump for his border wall. The $750 million would restart the construction program and get the first new icebreaker in the Arctic operational.
 
"It was supported widely and broadly here on the Senate side and on our Homeland bill. It needs to stay in there and we need to be doing more for next year so we actually get a production line going, like the Navy says," Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell lashes out at Democrats over 'unhinged' criticism of Kavanaugh The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year MORE (R-Alaska) told The Hill.
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Rep. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardTrump rips Puerto Rico as 'corrupt' as storm approaches Schumer blasts Trump officials: Diverting FEMA money to border 'backwards and cruel' Trump administration pulling millions from FEMA, other agencies to send to border MORE (D-Calif.), the presumptive incoming chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said that the Trump administration is "diverting $5 billion out of Homeland Security for that wall [and] we won't be able to address some of the real national security needs that we have."
 
"The best example that I can give is the Arctic, where the Coast Guard has been begging for a heavy ice cutter -- we have one that's 40 years old. They have to go on Ebay to get parts, and there are times when there is literally no U.S. presence in that area. Russia has 40 icebreakers, some of which are heavy icebreakers," she added.
 
U.S. officials have warned that other countries are increasing their presence in the Arctic region, especially as permanent ice cover decreases due to climate change, allowing access to natural resources and new shipping lanes.
 
"Diplomacy and cooperation are really hollow or shallow without presence," Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz said recently. "If we're not present, if we don't own the environment today, guess who owns it tomorrow -- our competitors."
 
At a conference earlier this month, Schultz said he's "guardedly optimistic funding for that first polar security cutter is going to be there."
 
The United States currently operates two icebreakers, although only one, a medium icebreaker, is in the Arctic, with the other heavy one in Antarctica.
 
"The Russians have 40, the Chinese have four, Canada has six, India is building a couple. What do we have? Come on, we all know the answer to this. We have one operational ice breaker, one polar strength vessel that is down in Antartica and will be for the rest of her useful days," Murkowski said.
 
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"We have a medium strength, she's doing well but she can't be up there most of the time, she's a research vessel, and that's it," added Murkowski.
 
The Coast Guard's polar strength vessel, the Pole Star, is 12 years past its expected useful period and suffered serious damage in January after one of its propellers was damaged by a piece of ice, according to InsideClimate News.
 
The Trump administration originally requested $750 million for the icebreaker program, which received bipartisan, bicameral support. 
 
But amid the debate over a border wall, the administration is throwing its weight behind the House version of Homeland Security bill that diverts $5 billion for southwest border security, at the expense of programs like the icebreakers.
 
"Borders are borders, right? You've got borders all the way around the country. What do we have on that northern border? We've got water and we've got ice. So what do we need to protect that border? We need a polar security cutter. We need more than one polar security cutter," Murkowski told The Hill.
 
Representatives for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees both land borders and the Coast Guard, did not return requests for comment.
 
Congress has until Dec. 21 to pass a Homeland Security funding bill and avoid a partial government shutdown.