The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved along party lines a $52.8 billion spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that will have to be reconciled with an eventual Senate appropriations bill for the department.
The 33 to 24 vote was expected as Democrats unanimously supported the measure and Republicans, who oppose funding cuts to border security, primarily for a border wall system, and immigration enforcement, were united in opposition.
Most of the funding bill has broad bipartisan support given proposed funding increases for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service, the Science and Technology branch and others.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee, said during the markup there is about 85 to 90 percent bipartisan agreement on the bill but said for Republicans to be onboard “we must come to a reasonable agreement on the immigration issues and until that is done, we just cannot support this bill in its current form.”
During debate on the bill, Fleischmann and Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), each offered, then withdrew, amendments to add funding to the Coast Guard’s shipbuilding account. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Homeland Security subcommittee, agreed to work with both men on the programs.
Fleishmann’s amendment would have added $240 million to continue production of the 154-foot fast response cutter (FRC), which is built by Bollinger Shipyards. The Coast Guard in fiscal year 2021 received $260 million for the final four FRCs of a planned 64 ship acquisition.
Fleischmann said the FRCs have proven themselves in support of domestic missions in internationally in support of the Defense Department in the Middle East. He also said that given expanding Coast Guard missions, particularly in the Arctic and for DoD, the program “is in a unique position not only to make major impacts but to do so quickly, expanding the capabilities of a Coast Guard whose needs have changed substantially since the original program of record was created over 15 years ago.”
Palazzo’s amendment would have added $105 million to provide long-lead time materials for a 12th national security cutter (NSC). The Coast Guard originally planned to purchase eight NSCs, which are built by Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] in Mississippi, to replace 12 Hamilton-class high endurance cutters, which are now all retired.
Congress over the years added funding for three more NSCs, bringing the planned total buy to 11 of the 420-foot ships. Roybal-Allard said that Congress gave chances for the former Trump administration and the new Biden administration to seek funding for one more NSC but pointed out that the Coast Guard has higher priorities elsewhere, highlighting the polar security cutter heavy icebreaker and the offshore patrol cutter medium-endurance ship, both of which are fully funded by the appropriators.
Still, even though Roybal-Allard said she would oppose the amendment, the congresswoman said she would work with Palazzo “as we move the process forward” and agreed that the NSC “is an incredible asset that is proving to be important to an array of Coast Guard missions.” Two Democrats, Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.) said they backed Palazzo’s amendment.
Roybal-Allard also said she would work with Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.), who offered an amendment that would have eliminated an entire provision in the report accompanying the committee’s DHS bill that requires the department to list on a public website the types of all its border surveillance technology used between ports of entry, how the technologies collect data, privacy implications, and contracts for the systems. The provision also requires DHS to give prior notice to communities where border surveillance technology will be deployed and host public forums to seek community comment.
Cline said the report’s provision “would effectively give the cartels and other nefarious actors a map” for U.S. border security technology and put Border Patrol agents “at high risk” and make the technologies targets for bad actors. Cline’s amendment was defeated by voice vote.
Roybal-Allard said the technologies could “infringe on the privacy rights” of people living along the border.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to schedule markups for any of its spending bills.