Sept. 4, 2019 — According to U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, a representative from Oregon, the federal government should pay all of its employees, especially those that provide for the security of the nation and its citizens. DeFazio believes these employees should be paid even when the government is shut down for political reasons tied into the budget, as happened earlier in 2019.
“I am a huge fan of the U.S. Coast Guard,” DeFazio said during the Oregon Coastal Caucus Economic Summit (OCCES) in Florence in August. “We recently passed a good Coast Guard bill out of my committee that actually increases funding for the Coast Guard, which has been chronically underfunded. … This bill will address some of the needs for their shore-side facilities and will assure that we are moving forward with new ice breakers and new offshore ships.”
The belief that the Coast Guard should always be paid, regardless of the budgetary constraints in place at any given time, is the basic premise, and the motivation, for legislation recently introduced into their respective legislative bodies by DeFazio and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden.
The legislation was passed by the House earlier this year and was mentioned by both men during last month’s OCCES. Now, the Senate will take up its own version of the act when senators return to work in Washington D.C. later this month.
In DeFazio’s opinion, one echoed through other Oregon governmental positions, the current manner in which funding for the Coast Guard is appropriated does not recognize the inherent importance of those who guard America’s 12,383 miles of coastline. Under the existing budget, the partial federal government shutdown in January did not contain any mechanism for paying the Coast Guard, which operates under the auspices of Homeland Security.
Oddly, Homeland Security, which oversees more than 20 other organizations dedicated to the security of the country, is also not funded during shutdowns. These include important departments such as United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration.
The response to this confusing paradigm is the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2019. The bill was introduced by DeFazio and sponsored by the rest of Oregon’s elected national leaders. The act was passed in July with bipartisan support.
During a keynote presentation at the OCCES hosted by Coastal Caucus member Caddie McKeown, both she and DeFazio stressed the need to pay Coast Guard members for the important work they do.
“We went through a period of dark days, 34 days in fact, where our Coast Guard members were not receiving any pay,” McKeown said. “I know a number of us that live on the coast interact with our Coast Guard every day. Their kids attend our schools, they volunteer in our churches, they shop in our store and they become a very important part of our communities. And when the shut-down occurred and they were not getting paid, every single community on the coast stepped up to try and figure out a way to make it right for them.”
She went on to ask DeFazio, “I am curious to know what your thoughts are on the potential for that ever happening again?”
DeFazio replied, “I had a provision in the bill that said that during any shut down, the Coast Guard will be paid, and because of the stupid way we do budgeting in the House … it wasn’t included in the final version of the bill. But the Senate is not bound by the same stupid rules as the House, they have other stupid rules, so the Senate bill contains the provision that they will be paid during a future shutdown. So, I am hopeful the we will get the provision in the final bill.”
If the Coast Guard Authorization Act is passed this fall as expected, and then signed by U.S. President Donald Trump, which is less certain, the dedicated men and women who serve along the Oregon coast will get the respect and appreciation they deserve with the simple act of paying them for their work.