President Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act has put Sitka’s plans for a new Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter on the rocks.
Sitka was selected as a homeport for one of the six vessels. And while the actual ship itself doesn’t appear in jeopardy, there might not be anyplace to put it, if the veto stands.
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan met with reporters before the Christmas holiday to share his frustration over the president’s veto of the bill, which appropriates around $400 million for a long list of capital projects to reinforce the Coast Guard’s presence in the Arctic, including a new dock in Sitka.
“There is significant more funding for infrastructure, particularly in Southeast, with regard to Sitka,” Sullivan said. “Almost $30 million for the pier replacement, because they’re getting a fast response cutter.”
Sullivan’s frustration is shared by many senators who worked together “pre-conferencing” the bill — in other words, sitting down with members of both parties — and with members of the US House of Representatives — hammering out something that a clear majority could agree to. But Sullivan’s frustration may be especially acute, since the Coast Guard technically isn’t part of the Defense Department — it’s within the Department of Homeland Security. He’s actually been working to link the Coast Guard Authorization with the National Defense Authorization Act, because the NDAA has been a sure thing for the last six decades.
“And the big development there was that we combined the Coast Guard bill and the Defense bill together,” Sullivan said. “That’s actually been a goal of mine since I got to the senate. That’s the first time that’s happened. It’s a great thing for our Coast Guard because the Defense bill moves every year. Sixty years in a row that bill’s moved. The Coast Guard bill often gets overlooked, forgotten, maybe reauthorized every two years.”
It was exactly two years ago that President Trump shut down the government in a standoff with Congress, but maintained Defense spending. The 42,000 members of the US Coast Guard, however, worked without pay over the holidays and through most of January.
Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, is also unhappy with Trump’s veto. In a news release on Christmas Eve she wrote, “It’s incredible that the President chose to veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act, particularly because his reason for doing so is an issue not related to national defense.” Earlier in the fall, the president threatened a veto because the bill failed to include a repeal of the so-called “Section 230” which shields internet companies from liability for statements posted on their websites by third parties. More recently, President Trump has called the National Defense Authorization Act a “gift to China.”
The US Senate could meet as early as Tuesday, December 29, to consider an override vote — but only if the House of Representatives has already done so.
KFSK’s Joe Viechnicki contributed to this story.
Note: This story was updated on 12-31-20 to correct the photo caption which incorrectly stated that all six FRCs would be deployed in Southeast Alaska.