By Emelie Rutherford

Senators slashed funding for Coast Guard icebreakers and cutters from the economic-stimulus bill likely headed for Senate passage today, dashing hopes for such shipbuilding monies in the final legislation House-Senate negotiators will craft.

The Senate was due last night to cast a procedural vote that, if successful, would allow a decision today in the chamber on the massive stimulus package. Such a vote today would be on a new $780 billion version of the bill, which removes $110 billion in spending from the version debated last week. Those cuts include $122.5 million for Coast Guard ships: $87.5 million for the design of a new polar icebreaker or the renovation of an existing icebreaker, and repairs and maintenance of existing icebreakers, along with $35 million for emergency maintenance of the service’s high-endurance cutters.

“We worked very hard to reduce the unnecessary spending in this bill,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. She and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) crafted the pared-down stimulus alternative.

The deleted $87.5 million in icebreaker funding would have aided efforts to bolster the Coast Guard’s three-ship fleet of the ships, which are receiving increasing attention because of melting arctic ice. Because the stimulus bill the House passed Jan. 28 includes no Coast Guard ship funds, the icebreaker and cutter monies are not expected to emerge from a compromise bill House-Senate negotiators will craft for President Obama.

Two of the icebreakers, the 33-year-old Polar Star and 31-year-ol Polar Sea, have exceeded their service lives, and the Polar Star is in caretaker status. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen called last summer for the nation’s icebreaking needs to be addressed.

Still, Coast Guard officials as recently as last week cautioned there is still much to be learned about arctic operations. And the ice-navigating ships require significant planning. A Congressional Research Service report cites icebreaker estimates as high as $925 million per ship, and says 10 years of work could be needed on a new icebreaker before it enters service.

Congress has given the Coast Guard $30.3 million, in the fiscal year 2009 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations act passed last fall, for reactivating the Polar Star. The service, though, has said more monies will be needed (Defense Daily, Oct. 30, 2008).

The Collins-Nelson stimulus plan, meanwhile, keeps $450 million in the Senate bill slated for Coast Guard “acquisition construction and improvements,” and also expands the intended use for some of that funding to “repair, renovate, assess, or improve vessels.”

All told, the proposed cuts in the alternate stimulus legislation would remove $400 million in DHS funding from the Senate bill, including $50 million for a new DHS headquarters.

Like the House-passed bill, the Senate measure includes significant funds for military construction, but no monies for buying Pentagon weapon systems. Senate Republicans failed to add spending on defense procurement programs (Defense Daily, Feb. 6).

The Collins-Nelson bill substitute Senate package would keep nearly the same rundown for Department of Defense (DoD) and military construction funding as was in the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Those Senate funds include: $100 million in defense procurement funds for alternative technologies for next-generation vehicles, $200 million in research-and-development monies for energy-efficient technologies for operational forces and installations, and $200 million in operation and maintenance funds for the services to lease alternative-energy vehicles for military installations.

The House bill, meanwhile, includes $350 million for defense research and development efforts intended to improve energy usage by weapon systems and military bases.